Red-headed Woodpeckers

These woodpeckers, scientific name Melanerpes erythrocephalus, are distinct and very recognizable.  As the name suggests they have red heads, they are bright red on both the male and female adults.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Juveniles heads are a more mottle brown gray with only a hint of red.  They are still recognizable by their wing patterns even as juveniles.  They have distinct black and white patches.  As seen above, there is a white stripe between the black when their wings are folded.  As they fly the pattern looks almost checkered.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Like most woodpeckers, the red-headed woodpecker, has a strong and relatively long beak good for pecking/drilling holdings in wood.  They also have long sticky tongues good for reaching and catching food.  Red-headed woodpeckers are omnivorous and very flexible in how they eat. They will even take seeds and nuts from bird feeders.  These woodpeckers also have the unique ability of being able to catch bugs in flight.

They also have feet which are adapted to their lifestyle of perching vertically and are even able to climb up trunks.  They have two forward facing and two backward facing toes, the first and fourth being the ones that face backwards.  This is known as zygodactyl.

KODAK Digital Still Camera


All  of these pictures, as well as many more which I have, are all of the same two woodpeckers, that kept coming back to the same telephone pole, which you can see is riddled with holes.  I know there were two because I saw them both there at the same time.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Their consistency in coming back to the same pole over several different days gave me the impression they had a nest up there with young.  Mothers and Fathers are both responsible for bringing back food for the young.  They also can have multiple breeds a year, but they usually build a new nest for each one.  The males build the nests and if the female approves she comes and pecks at it.  Sometimes their young are close enough in age that their dependent stage overlaps, so the parent woodpeckers are gathering and delivering food to two separate nests.

Red headed woodpeckers populations have declined a lot in recent years – most likely a result of loss of habitat, especially dead, hollow trees.  It is impressive that they have been able to adapt enough to use utility poles, that attract wood boring insects much the way any tree does.

Not far down the same road there was another tree with abundant woodpecker holes, although I never caught a woodpecker there.  The tree was especially interesting, though, because at the bottom was a termites nest.  I think if  I were woodpecker I would definitely like to put my effort into drilling a hole that I knew would be constantly be refilled from the nest below.

Here are a few more pictures I got of these intriguing and beautiful birds!!

Happy Birding!

-Shana Nealy


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