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Red-headed Woodpecker

Melanerpes erythrocephalus ORDER: PICIFORMES FAMILY: PICIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Near Threatened

The gorgeous Red-headed Woodpecker is so boldly patterned it’s been called a “flying checkerboard,” with an entirely crimson head, a snow-white body, and half white, half inky black wings. These birds don’t act quite like most other woodpeckers: they’re adept at catching insects in the air, and they eat lots of acorns and beech nuts, often hiding away extra food in tree crevices for later. This magnificent species has declined severely in the past half-century because of habitat loss and changes to its food supply.


Red-headed Woodpeckers give all kinds of chirps, cackles, and other raucous calls. Their most common call is a shrill, hoarse tchur, like a Red-bellied Woodpecker’s but higher-pitched and less rolling. When chasing each other they make shrill charr-charr notes.


Red-headed Woodpeckers drum on trees, utility poles, tin roofs, stovepipes, or the sides of houses to drive away territorial intruders. Drumming includes a two-part hammering sound, as well as a staccato roll somewhat like that of a Downy Woodpecker (with one-second bursts of 19–25 beats per second, repeated 2–3 times). They also tap slowly on surfaces near the nest cavity when choosing a nest or communicating with their mates.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Red-headed Woodpeckers occasionally visit feeders in winter, especially suet. They will eat seeds, corn, acorns, beechnuts, pecans, and many kinds of fruits (including apples, pears, cherries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, mulberries, and poison ivy fruits).

Find This Bird

Look for Red-headed Woodpeckers in scattered, open woodlots in agricultural areas, dead timber in swamps, or pine savannas. Walk slowly, listening for tapping or drumming, and keep your eyes alert for telltale flashes of black and white as these high-contrast woodpeckers fly in between perches. The red head can be hard to see in strong glare. Raucous, harsh weah! calls will also give away the presence of a Red-headed Woodpecker.

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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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