Red-headed Woodpecker

Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Red-headed Woodpecker specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A medium-sized (8 ½ - 9 ½ inches) woodpecker, the Red-headed Woodpecker is most easily identified by its solid black upperparts, white wing patches, white belly, and all-red head. Among woodpeckers in its range, this is the only species with a completely red head, although several, particularly the Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), have smaller amounts of red on the head. Unlike most woodpeckers, male and female Red-headed Woodpeckers are similar to one another in all seasons. The Red-headed Woodpecker is widely distributed as a breeding bird across the eastern United States and southern Canada. Northern populations move south in winter, vacating the upper Great Plains, northern Great Lakes, and most of New England while moving into southern Louisiana and Texas. This species is absent from higher elevations in the Appalachian Mountains, coastal portions of the Mid-Atlantic region, and south Florida. Red-headed Woodpeckers inhabit a variety of deciduous woodland habitats, shifting to more open habitats on the Great Plains. This species is found less frequently in urban and suburban environments than its relatives due to its preference for large dead branches or snags for feeding. Red-headed Woodpeckers eat a variety of plant and animal foods, including insects, berries, nuts, and seeds. In appropriate habitat, this species may be seen climbing trees and branches head-first while foraging for food. When moving from tree to tree, this species undertakes short, undulating flights through the canopy. Unlike other species of woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpeckers often catch insects in the air while in flight. This species is primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Uncommon permanent resident, undergoing a recent decline in numbers. Nests from late April to early July in open woodlands, mostly in deciduous forests. The immature bird lacks the red head of the adults. Sexes are similar.

Specimen Information

The first record likely applies to the upper bird, while the second record would be the lower bird.
Date:  8/16/1887
Collected By:  CW Richmond
Locality:  Washington, DC
Sex:  Immature
Catalog ID:  121616
Date:  5/21/1859
Collected By:  C Drexler
Locality:  Washington, DC
Sex:  Male
Catalog ID:  12066

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC64549 Melanerpes erythrocephalus (Red-headed Woodpecker)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC54342 Melanerpes erythrocephalus (Red-headed Woodpecker)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC54343 Melanerpes erythrocephalus (Red-headed Woodpecker)