Red-headed Woodpecker

Melanerpes erythrocephalus

An unmistakable bird, the Red-headed Woodpecker is striking at rest and in flight, showing its colors of red, black, and white. It is one of the most aggressive members of the family and one of the most omnivorous.

Cool Facts

Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
  • The Red-headed Woodpecker is one of only four woodpeckers known to store food, and it is the only one known to cover the stored food with wood or bark. It hides insects and seeds in cracks in wood, under bark, in fence posts, and under roof shingles. Grasshoppers are regularly stored alive, but wedged into crevices so tightly that they cannot escape.
  • In addition to attacking other birds to keep them out of its territory, the Red-headed Woodpecker is also known to remove the eggs of other species from nests and nest boxes, destroy nests, and even to enter duck-nesting boxes and puncture the duck eggs.
  • The Red-headed Woodpecker benefited from the chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease. The devastating tree diseases killed many trees and provided nest sites for the woodpeckers.
  •  A group of woodpeckers has many collective nouns, including a "descent", "drumming", and "gatling" of woodpeckers.


Adult Description

  • Medium-sized woodpecker.
  • Bright red hood.
  • White chest.

Immature Description

Juvenile with gray-brown head and black bars on white secondaries. Immature with some red in gray head.
Range Map
Taxonomic Hierarchy


© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Piciformes
Family: Picidae
     Subfamily: Picinae
Genus: Melanerpes
Species: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Call a loud "tchur-tchur."

Identification and Information
See Anatomy of a Bird
  • Length Range: 22-23 cm (8.5-9.25 in)
  • Weight: 71 g (2.5 oz)
  • Size: Small (5 - 9 in)
  • Color Primary: Red, White, Black, Sheen or Iridescence
  • Underparts: White
  • Upperparts: Black
  • Back Pattern: Solid
  • Belly Pattern: Solid
  • Breast Pattern: Solid
  • Bill Shape: Dagger, All-purpose
  • Eye Color: Gray brown in juveniles, dark brown or red-brown in adults.
  • Head Pattern: Plain
  • Crown Color: Red
  • Forehead Color: Red
  • Nape Color: Red
  • Throat Color: Red
  • Cere color: No Data
  • Flight Pattern: Strong flight with slow steady shallow wing beats., Sallies for flying insects, then returns to same or nearby perch.
  • Wingspan Range: 41-46 cm (16-18 in)
  • Wing Shape: Pointed-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Pointed Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Solid
  • Upper Tail: Black
  • Under Tail: Black
  • Leg Color: Black
  • Breeding Location: Forest edge, Grassland with scattered trees, Mountains
  • Breeding Type: Yes but uncommon
  • Breeding Population: Fairly common to common
  • Egg Color: White
  • Number of Eggs: 4 - 7
  • Incubation Days: 12 - 14
  • Egg Incubator: Female
  • Nest Material: No nest materials.
  • Migration: Some migrate
  • Condition at Hatching: Hatch naked and helpless.

Other Names

Similar Species

  • Pic à tête rouge (French)
  • Carpintero de cabeza roja (Spanish)

Conservation Status

Breeding Bird Survey data show the species is declining over much of its breeding range. An edge species, it declines where forests mature. It is increasing in areas where beavers are increasing and creating more flooded beaver meadows with dead snags.


Sources used to Construct this Page:

  • Breeds in deciduous woodlands, especially beech or oak, river bottoms, open woods, groves of dead and dying trees, orchards, parks, open country with scattered trees, forest edges, and open wooded swamps with dead trees and stumps. Attracted to burns and recent clearings.
  • Winters in mature stands of forest, especially those with oaks.
  • Smith, K. G., J. H. Withgott, and P. G. Rodewald. 2000. Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus). In The Birds of North America, No. 518 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
Most omnivorous woodpecker. Beech and oak mast, seeds, nuts, berries, fruit, insects, bird eggs, nestlings, mice.
Frequently flycatches for insects, flying out and returning to the same perch. Drills for insects in wood or bark. Occasionally visits feeders.

Adult Sexes Similar

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Additional Photos & Video

Adult Sexes Similar

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All photos © 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.

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