Photo Credit: Bill Horn

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Melanerpes erythrocephalus

STATUS: Breeder. Fairly common in spring, summer, and fall, and uncommon in winter in all regions. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

DESCRIPTION:  The red-headed woodpecker (melanerpes erythrocephalus) is the only eastern woodpecker with an entirely red head.  It has a solid black back, white rump and large white patches on the wings, making the lower back appear white when the bird is at rest.  Immature birds appear to have a dusky colored head.  Its voice is a loud queer or queeah sound.

DISTRIBUTION:  It inhabits areas east of the Rocky Mountains from southern Canada to the Gulf States.  It will migrate from the northern most part of its range out of higher elevations.

HABITAT:  The red-headed woodpecker is found in a number of habitat types including: wooded savannas, open woodlands, riparian forests, orchards, suburbia and agricultural lands.  Preferred habitat includes dead trees for nest sites, relatively open undergrowth, and access to the ground for foraging.

FEEDING HABITS:  Unlike other woodpeckers, Melanerpes erythrocephalus rarely excavates holes for insects.  They mostly use the fly and catch technique to capture insects from the air or sometimes they spot prey from a branch and fly down to capture it.  The majority of their diet consists of nuts, fruits and cultivated crops such as acorns, beech nuts and corn.  Nuts and acorns are stored in cracks and crevices in trees.  The remaining portion of their diet includes animal prey such as beetles, ants, grasshoppers, mice, eggs and young birds.

LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY:  Males excavate nests in dead tree trunks or limbs but fence posts and utility poles are used when trees aren’t available.  The average clutch size is five with an incubation period of 14 days.  Both males and females incubate the eggs and feed the young with males taking on the majority of the responsibility as the young get older.  Young red-headed woodpeckers are able to leave the nest 27 days after hatching and are usually driven away by the adults that are beginning a second brood.  Red-headed woodpeckers have been known to live up to 10 years.


Peterson, R.T.  1980.  Peterson Field Guide  (Eastern Birds).  Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.

Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.  2000.

AUTHOR: Adam Pritchett, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries