Red-headed woodpecker

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Red-headed woodpecker
Melanerpes erythrocephalus -tree trunk-USA.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Piciformes
Family: Picidae
Genus: Melanerpes
M. erythrocephalus
Binomial name
Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Melanerpes erythrocephalus map.svg
Approximate distribution map

Picus erythrocephalus Linnaeus, 1758

The red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) is a small or medium-sized woodpecker from temperate North America. Their breeding habitat is open country across southern Canada and the eastern-central United States. It is rated as least concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)'s Red List of Endangered species, having been downlisted from near threatened in 2018.[2]

The red-bellied woodpecker also has its most prominent red part of its plumage on the head, but it looks quite different in other respects.


At a bird feeder

The English naturalist Mark Catesby described and illustrated the red-headed woodpecker in his book The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands which was published between 1729 and 1732. Catesby used the English name "The Red-headed Wood-pecker" and the Latin Picus capite toto rubro.[3] When in 1758 the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus updated his Systema Naturae for the tenth edition, he included the red-headed woodpecker, coined the binomial name Picus erythrocephalus and cited Catesby's book.[4] The specific epithet combines the Classical Greek ἐρυθρός, eruthros meaning "red" and κεφαλή, kephalos meaning "headed".[5] The type locality is South Carolina.[6] The red-headed woodpecker is one of 24 species now placed in the genus Melanerpes that was introduced by the English ornithologist William John Swainson in 1832 specifically to accommodate the red-headed woodpecker.[7][8] The species is monotypic: no subspecies are recognised.[8]


Adults are strikingly tri-colored, with a black back and tail and a red head and neck. Their underparts are mainly white. The wings are black with white secondary remiges. Adult males and females are identical in plumage.[9] Juveniles have very similar markings, but have an all grey head.[9] While red-bellied woodpeckers have some bright red on the backs of their necks and heads, red-headed woodpeckers have a much deeper red that covers their entire heads and necks, as well as a dramatically different overall plumage pattern.

These are mid-sized woodpeckers. Both sexes measure from 19 to 25 cm (7.5 to 9.8 in) in length, with a wingspan of 42.5 cm (16.7 in).[10][11] They weigh from 56 to 97 g (2.0 to 3.4 oz) with an average of 76 g (2.7 oz).[12] Each wing measures 12.7–15 cm (5.0–5.9 in), the tail measures 6.6–8.5 cm (2.6–3.3 in), the bill measures 2.1–3 cm (0.83–1.18 in) and the tarsus measures 1.9–2.5 cm (0.75–0.98 in).[13] The maximum longevity in the wild is 9.9 years.[12]

They give a tchur-tchur call or drum on their territory.


These birds fly to catch insects in the air or on the ground, forage on trees or gather and store nuts. They are omnivorous, eating insects, seeds, fruits, berries, nuts, and occasionally small rodents and even the eggs of other birds.[9] About two thirds of their diet is made up of plants.[9] They nest in a cavity in a dead tree, utility pole, or a dead part of a tree that is between 2.45 and 24.5 m (8.0 and 80.4 ft) above the ground.[9] They lay 4 to 7 eggs in early May which are incubated for two weeks.[9] Two broods can be raised in a single nesting season.[9] Northern birds migrate to the southern parts of the range, with most having arrived on the breeding range by late April, and having left for winter quarters by late October;[14][15] southern birds are often permanent residents.


The red-headed woodpecker is rated as least concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)'s Red List of Endangered species. It was formerly rated as near threatened, having been reclassified from Least Concern in 2004 after it appeared to have experienced a 65.5% decline in population over 40 years;[1] from 1966-2015 there was a greater than 1.5% annual population decline throughout the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, and in central Florida.[16] Increased habitat management, however, has caused its numbers to stabilize, thus leading to its downlisting.[2]

The red-headed woodpecker was historically a common species in southern Canada and the east-central United States. Consistent long-term population declines have resulted in red-headed woodpecker's threatened status in Canada and several states in the US. Throughout most of its range it inhabits areas that have been heavily altered by humans. Factors suggested for red-headed woodpecker declines include: loss of overall habitat and, within habitats, standing dead wood required for nest sites,[17] limitations of food supply,[18] and possible nest-site competition with other cavity nesters such as European starlings or red-bellied woodpeckers.[19][20]

Of the 600 Canadian Important Bird Areas only seven report the red-headed woodpecker in their area: Cabot Head, Ontario on the Georgian Bay side of the tip of Bruce Peninsula; Carden Plain, Ontario east of Lake Simcoe; Long Point Peninsula and Marshes, Ontario along Lake Erie near London, Ontario; Point Abino, Ontario on Lake Erie near Niagara Falls; Port Franks Forested Dunes, Ontario northeast of Sarnia on Lake Huron; Kinosota/Leifur, Manitoba at the northwest side of Lake Manitoba south of The Narrows and east of Riding Mountain National Park; and along South Saskatchewan River from Empress, Alberta to Lancer Ferry in Saskatchewan.[21]

Popular culture[edit]

In 1996, the United States Postal Service issued a 2-cent postage stamp depicting a perched red-headed woodpecker.[22] The stamp was discontinued at some time thereafter, but re-issued in 1999 and remained available for purchase until 2006.[23]


  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2017). "Melanerpes erythrocephalus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2017. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  2. ^ a b BirdLife International. "Red List: Northern Bald Ibis, Pink Pigeon making a comeback". BirdLife. Retrieved 2018-11-23.
  3. ^ Catesby, Mark (1729–1732). The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. Volume 1. London: W. Innys and R. Manby. p. 20, Plate 20. |volume= has extra text (help)
  4. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Volume 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 113. |volume= has extra text (help)
  5. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 149. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  6. ^ Peters, James Lee, ed. (1948). Check-List of Birds of the World. Volume 6. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 158. |volume= has extra text (help)
  7. ^ Swainson, William John (1831). Richardson, John (ed.). Fauna boreali-americana, or, The zoology of the northern parts of British America : containing descriptions of the objects of natural history collected on the late northern land expeditions under command of Captain Sir John Franklin, R.N.: Part 2, The Birds. p. 316. The title page gives the date as 1831 but the volume was not actually published until the following year.
  8. ^ a b Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (2020). "Woodpeckers". IOC World Bird List Version 10.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Porter, Eloise F.; James F. Parnell; Robert P. Teulings; Ricky Davis (2006). Birds of the Carolinas (Second ed.). Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. p. 220. ISBN 978-0-8078-5671-0.
  10. ^ Red-headed Woodpecker. All About Birds.
  11. ^ Red-headed woodpecker.
  12. ^ a b Wasser, D. E.; Sherman, P. W. (2010). "Avian longevities and their interpretation under evolutionary theories of senescence". Journal of Zoology. 280 (2): 103. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2009.00671.x.
  13. ^ Winkler, Hans; Christie, David A. and Nurney, David (1995) Woodpeckers: An Identification Guide to the Woodpeckers of the World, Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 978-0-395-72043-1
  14. ^ Henninger, W.F. (1906). "A preliminary list of the birds of Seneca County, Ohio" (PDF). Wilson Bulletin. 18 (2): 47–60.
  15. ^ Ohio Ornithological Society (2004): Annotated Ohio state checklist Archived 2004-07-18 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ "Red-headed Woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus BBS Trend Map, 1966 - 2015". Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. USGS. Retrieved 2019-05-24.
  17. ^ Smith, K. G., J. H. Withgott, and P. G. Rodewald. (2000). Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus). The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online, Ithaca.
  18. ^ Ontario Partners in Flight. (2008). Ontario Landbird Conservation Plan: Lower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Plain, North American Bird Conservation Region 13. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Bird Studies Canada, Environmental Canada. Draft Version 2.0.
  19. ^ Ingold, D. J. (1989). "Nesting phenology and competition for nest sites among Red-headed and Red-bellied Woodpeckers and European Starlings". Auk. 106: 209–217.
  20. ^ Ingold, D. J. (1994). "Influence of nest-site competition between European Starlings and woodpeckers". Wilson Bulletin. 106: 227–241.
  21. ^ Important Bird Area Canada, Site Catalogue Query
  22. ^ America's 1996 Stamps Program (1996): Red-headed Woodpecker. Retrieved 2006-JAN-31.
  23. ^ USA Philatelic (2006). "Red-headed Woodpecker". USA Philatelic. 11 (1): 31.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]