My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

The Red-headed Woodpecker is a small or medium-sized woodpecker from temperate North America. Their breeding habitat is open country across southern Canada and the eastern-central United States.

Adults are strikingly tri-colored, with a black back and tail and a red head and neck. Their underparts are mainly white. The wings are black with white secondary remiges. Adult males and females are identical in plumage. Juveniles have very similar markings, but have an all grey head. Non-birders may often mistakenly identify Red-bellied Woodpeckers as Red-headeds, whose range overlaps somewhat with that of the Red-headed Woodpecker. While Red-bellied Woodpeckers have some bright red on the backs of their necks and heads, Red-headed Woodpeckers have a much deeper red that covers their entire heads and necks, as well as a dramatically different overall plumage pattern.

These are mid-sized woodpeckers. Both sexes measure from 19 to 25 cm (7.5 to 9.8 in) in length, with a wingspan of 42.5 cm (16.7 in). They weigh from 56 to 97 g (2.0 to 3.4 oz) with an average of 76 g (2.7 oz). Each wing measures 12.7–15 cm (5.0–5.9 in), the tail measures 6.6–8.5 cm (2.6–3.3 in), the bill measures 2.1–3 cm (0.83–1.18 in) and the tarsus measures 1.9–2.5 cm (0.75–0.98 in). The maximum longevity in the wild is 9.9 years.

They give a tchur-tchur call or drum on territory.

These birds fly to catch insects in the air or on the ground, forage on trees or gather and store nuts. They are omnivorous, eating insects, seeds, fruits, berries, nuts, and occasionally even the eggs of other birds. About two thirds of their diet is made up of plants. They nest in a cavity in a dead tree, utility pole, or a dead part of a tree that is between 2.45 and 24.5 m (8.0 and 80.4 ft) above the ground. They lay 4 to 7 eggs in early May which are incubated for two weeks. Two broods can be raised in a single nesting season. Northern birds migrate to the southern parts of the range, with most having arrived on the breeding range by late April, and having left for winter quarters by late October, southern birds are often permanent residents.

The Red-headed Woodpecker is a once common but declining bird species found in southern Canada and east-central United States. Consistent long-term population declines have resulted in Red-headed Woodpecker’s threatened status in Canada and several states in the US. This has led to an immediate need for conservation, which, so far, has been the focus of limited studies. Throughout most of its range it inhabits areas that have been heavily altered by humans. Factors suggested for Red-headed Woodpecker declines include: loss of overall habitat and, within habitats, standing dead wood required for nest sites, limitations of food supply, and possible nest-site competition with other cavity nesters such as European Starlings or Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Unfortunately few of these factors have been substantiated.

On to my photos:

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Juvenile

Red-headed Woodpecker, Juvenile

Red-headed Woodpecker, Juvenile

Red-headed Woodpecker, Juvenile

Red-headed Woodpecker, Juvenile

Red-headed Woodpecker, Juvenile

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus

This is number 147 in my photo life list, only 203 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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13 responses

  1. It is hard to work out the evolutionary gain in such a startling head colour.

    February 25, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    • Well, it could have to do with courtship and finding a mate.

      February 25, 2014 at 1:58 pm

  2. Great shots of a bird that I’ve found to be very illusive especially when I have my camera!

    February 25, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    • Thank you! I always get the bird!

      February 25, 2014 at 3:07 pm

  3. I hear them all the time but rarely see them. I’ve noticed that when I walk and make noise they peck and when I stop, so do they. You got some great peek-a-boo shots!

    February 25, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    • Birds are sneaky that way, I’ll bet that you don’t have the same problem with plants. 😉

      February 26, 2014 at 2:37 am

  4. Beautiful photographs! You take a really good pictures! 🙂 It took me nearly two years to get a good shot of a Pileated woodpecker and now I am watching a tree that has been pecked to death but can’t ever get pictures of the woodpecker doing the damage. I hope to post soon! 🙂

    check out my trail cam pictures;
    Michael
    http://michaelswoodcraft.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/first-night/

    February 26, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    • Thanks Michael, I wish you luck in catching the woodpecker, patience is a virtue, or so they say.

      February 27, 2014 at 2:44 am

  5. Great pics! And congrats on getting as far as you have in such a short time. I love the idea of documenting your state birds. I have been doing something similar with birds in my province as well. It’s such an enjoyable challenge.

    February 26, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    • Thank you for the comment and nice words, I’ll be checking your blog when I have more time.

      February 27, 2014 at 2:53 am

  6. Jealous..jealous..jealous. One day I’ll get to see one of these.

    March 5, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    • Thanks, woodpeckers are easy for me, I just go out in the woods and act like a nut. 😉 Never fails!

      March 6, 2014 at 2:41 am

      • Oh that makes me laugh. So that’s what I’m missing

        March 6, 2014 at 11:12 am