Bird of the Year

Each year, Wake Audubon chooses a bird on which to focus. The species is always one that is found in Wake County and a bird that is under pressure from climate change, development and loss of habitat.. We learn about the species through articles in our e-newsletter, lectures and field trips

The Red-headed Woodpecker – Wake Audubon’s 2020 Bird of the Year

 

Red-headed Woodpecker.  Photo by Kathleen Johnston.
Red-headed Woodpecker. Photo by Kathleen Johnston.

The Red-headed Woodpecker’s scientific name is Melanerpes erythrocephalus. It was originally described by Linnaeus and the species name literally means red head.  The head and neck is entirely red, unlike the Red-bellied Woodpecker, which is red on the back of the neck only (and a little on the belly). The bird’s underside is white while the back and tail and most of the wings are black It has a large white wing patch.  Males and females look alike while juveniles have grey heads.   

Juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker.  Photo by Bob Oberfelder.
Juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker. Photo by Bob Oberfelder.

Red-headed Woodpeckers are year-round residents of all of North Carolina except the higher elevations, where they are only found in the summer.  They are found mostly in bottom-land forests, wetlands, and open woodland.  They must have dead wood in which to excavate their nests, so snags and dead branches of trees are important aspects of their habitat.  Once they have excavated their nest cavity, they may reuse it for several years. They typically lay 4 to 7 pure white eggs in early May.  Incubation takes 14 days and the hatchlings spend about a month in the nest before fledging. Red-headed Woodpeckers’ diet is about one third animal and two-thirds plant matter.  They are excellent at catching insects on the fly.  They eat grasshoppers, beetles, and other insects.  The eat seeds, nuts and berries.  They store nuts and seeds under bark for later use.   

Red-headed Woodpecker at nest cavity. Photo by Bob Oberfelder.
Red-headed Woodpecker at nest cavity. Photo by Bob Oberfelder.

Red-headed Woodpecker in flight with nut in its beak. Photo by Kimberlie Dewey.
Red-headed Woodpecker in flight with nut in its beak. Photo by Kimberlie Dewey.

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