RED-HEADED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) – (See images below)
DESCRIPTION: The Red-headed Woodpecker adult has a red head, head and throat. Upper back, tail and wings are black, under parts white. Wing secondaries and lower back are white. Bill, legs and feet are grey. Eyes are dark brown. Sexes are similar. Juvenile has a grey head. Bird length is about 20 cm (8 inches).
NAME: ‘Woodpecker’ refers to the bird’s feeding behavior (see Diet below). Latin genus name ‘Melanerpes’ means ‘black creeper’. Latin species name ‘erythrocephalus’ means ‘red head’.
HABITAT: Open woods, farmland, parks.
DIET: Omnivorous – insects, berries, seeds, small bird eggs, even bark. May catch insects on the fly. As name implies, woodpeckers peck at wood (tree bark, crevices) to find insects. However this species will rather ‘forage’ for prey than peck at wood.
NESTING: Nest is built in tree cavity. Between four and six white eggs are laid, incubated by both parents, who also both feed the young.
DISTRIBUTION: Breeding range includes south-central Canada and north central USA. Year-round resident in USA east of the Rockies and south of breeding range. Wintering grounds cover south-central USA.
Distribution Map: – /media/File:Melanerpes_erythrocephalus_d
ON PEI: Does not breed on Prince Edward Island, sightings listed as ‘accidental’ so far, in all seasons. See note below on bird vagrancy.
CONSERVATION: Population has declined in east part of range, possibly due to loss of nesting sites to European Starlings and overall degradation of habitat. Also may get hit by vehicles when catching insects on the fly. Currently not listed at risk.
Drumming: Woodpeckers tap and drum on hard resounding surfaces to claim territory and attract mates, and the red-bellied species is no exception. These woodpeckers will even drum on utility poles, metal roofs, anything they can find that gives them good ‘results’. For more information on drumming please see the page ‘Interesting Behaviors’ on this website.
Vagrancy: In biology this means an animal going way outside its normal range. For birds, this can happen when there are storms and they get blown off course. On other times, the bird simply wanders in a different direction than usual. Here’s an article about vagrancy in birds.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Red-bellied Woodpecker
REFERENCES: (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency) (New Hampshire PBS)
American Bird Conservancy (Red-headed Woodpecker) (Missouri Department of Conservation) (New York Natural Heritage Program) (University of Michigan) (Texas Breeding Bird Atlas)

Red-headed Woodpecker - USA - Apr. 2009 - photo by Colleen
Red-headed Woodpecker – USA – Apr. 2009 – photo by Colleen
Red-headed Woodpecker - USFWS - Apr. 2008 - photo by David Menke
Red-headed Woodpecker – USFWS – Apr. 2008 – photo by David Menke