Exploring the Red-headed Woodpecker Nesting, Feeding, Mating Habits

The Red-headed Woodpecker, sometimes known as Flag Bird, is probably the most known woodpecker by non-birdwatchers due to an old Saturday morning cartoon show.

Often its personality matches its striking coloration, as this bird can get quite aggressive toward other woodpeckers or visitors that get too close to a nest tree or food cache.

While not rare birds, they're becoming less common and some say that trend is going to continue, especially because of lost habitat.

Once you've seen this bird, you'll never mistake it for the Red-bellied Woodpecker that some new birders have done.

Description - What They Look Like

Red-Headed Woodpecker With Seed in Bill

Red-headed Woodpecker

Measuring about 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 inches long, this is the only woodpecker with a all redhead. The body and wings are patterned in black and white.

In flight, you'll notice the white rump and white inner trailing half of the wings. Female Red-headed Woodpeckers look the same as the males.

Juveniles will have a brown head, black back with white wing patches, and buff white bellies.

Listen to Red-headed Woodpecker Call

You'll find these birds in groves, open woodlands, farmlands, suburbs, and shade trees. Common bird east of the Rockies.

Even though Red-headed Woodpeckers are not rare birds, I've found it easier to locate them by listening for their call, and following the sound.

Feeding Habits

These birds spend much of their time fly-catching from exposed perches.

Red-headed Woodpeckers will eat insects, spiders, earthworms, mice, nuts, berries, and corn.

You can attract these birds to your feeders by providing black-oil sunflower seeds and by placing suet in your suet feeders

Red-headed Woodpeckers can catch insects in midair as well as forage on fallen leaf litter.

You'll find that they cache pieces of nuts, acorns, and even insects, in small cavities for use during the non-breeding season.

red headed woodpecker on tree

Red-headed Woodpecker on Tree

They will defend these caches from other Woodpeckers, Jays, and Crows.

Where Do Red-headed Woodpeckers Live?

There is concern about the declining numbers of these birds, especially in the Northeast.

One cause of their decline is competition for nest holes from starlings and other cavity nesters.

Another is due to where they live, open forests, parks with scattered trees, and orchards next to forested areas.

Making use of tall dead trees or large dead limbs that are often removed for firewood or to reduce the hazard of fire adds to the decline in numbers.

Habitat destroyed for urban development is another cause of reduced numbers.

To these birds, dead wood is a necessity for life. You can help by leaving some dead trees on your property and placing properly constructed birdhouses in your backyard.

Mating Habits - Mate for Life

When breeding season arrives in late April, the males begin pecking faster and louder to attract a mate.

If a female is attracted to the sound and the male's territory, she will choose to stay and nest with the male.

These pair bonds may last for several years or they may even mate for life.

Nesting Habits

While both birds help build the nest, the male does most of the excavation.

Most other woodpeckers build a new nest each season, but the Red-headed may reuse a nest site several times.

These nest cavities can be 6 to 18 inches deep and anywhere from 5 to 80 feet above the ground.

Some may use old Northern Flicker cavities and even usurp cavities of Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers.

Egg laying can begin as early as April and run through July. Which is later than most woodpeckers.

The female lays 4 to 7 white eggs. Both males and females share incubation. The male incubates at night and the female incubates during the day.

Incubation begins after the last egg is laid, and it will be 14 days before the eggs hatch.

The young leave the nest in about 30 days after the eggs hatch.

Red-headed Woodpecker Nesting Stats
Red-headed Woodpecker Nesting Stats
Eggs 4 - 7
Incubation 14 days
Nestling Phase 30 days
Broods 1 - 2

The young may stay in their parent's territory anywhere from a week to 2 months before the adults chase them from their territory.

Some pairs in the southern range that started early may raise 2 broods in a season.

Red-Headed Woodpecker Tree Cavity Nest

Cavity Nest of Woodpecker

Migratory Habits

Northern populations of the Red-headed Woodpecker are migratory and concentrate in woods with abundant acorns. In most other areas, Red-headed Woodpeckers are permanent residents.

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Kinds of Woodpeckers Types