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Red-headed Woodpecker

Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed woodpecker on branch
Red-headed Woodpecker Adaptable to Many Different Habitats

Appropriately named, the red-headed woodpecker is easily spotted by its red head, black body, and prominent white wing patches. Its breeding range covers most of the eastern United States north into Canada. The northern third of the population may migrate south, depending on food scarcity. This woodpecker inhabits a wide variety of habitats, ranging from seemingly inhospitable environments like burned forests and flooded bottomland forests to the expected orchards, parks and open deciduous woods. However, its preferred habitat is among the sparse trees of an open savanna, such as the landscape being protected and restored at Kankakee Sands in Illinois.

The red-headed woodpecker is remarkably well-adapted to catching insects on the fly, though its diet also includes seeds, nuts, corn, fruit, bird eggs, nestlings, adult birds and mice. It is only one of four woodpeckers known to store food in the winter, and the only one known to cover its stores with bark or wood.  It often caches grasshoppers, nuts, corn and fruit in trees, posts and under railroad ties. 

Like many woodpeckers, it often reuses nests, which it may or may not excavate itself. The red-headed woodpecker sometimes inhabits abandoned cavities or may even force other species from active sites. It begins nest-building as early as February and egg-laying as early as mid-April. A persistent bird, females will lay a second clutch if their first fails. Despite this persistence, the species has declined 4.6 percent each year since 1980 and has lost about 50 percent of its total population since 1966, mostly because of habitat degradation and loss of food sources. It is listed as Vulnerable in Canada and Threatened in several US states.

 

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