Species Spotlight: Red-headed Woodpecker

Get to know some of the species at risk in the Lac Deschênes IBA with the Species Spotlight, aka “Sp-Spot”. Today meet the: Red-headed Woodpecker

Photograph by Tom Benson

Scientific Name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
SARA Status: Threatened; Ontario: Special Concern; Quebec: Threatened
Taxonomic Group: Birds
Size: Medium sized woodpecker, approximately 20cm long

The Red-headed Woodpecker is easily recognizable with its distinctive bright red head, white underparts with a black back and large white patches on the wings. Look for the Red-headed Woodpecker in open, mature woodlands or areas where there are large standing dead trees which these woodpeckers like to nest in. The male birds excavate gourd-shaped holes in suitable trees as nest cavities.

The Breeding Bird Survey has shown a significant decline of 70% in Red-headed Woodpeckers throughout Canada in from 1968 to 2005. The decline is mainly due to destruction of habitat for development and loss of nesting sites in urban areas by the removal of dead trees. The Red-headed Woodpecker is also suffering from competition with invasive species, such as European Starlings, for nest sites.

Where else can you see this species?
The Red-headed Woodpecker is found as far West as Manitoba and Saskatchewan and as far east as Quebec. The populations in the most northerly and westerly parts of North America are the only population that migrate South in search of more abundant food.

Did You Know?
• The Red-headed Woodpecker finds insects below tree bark by drilling holes like other woodpeckers, but also catches insects in flight or hunts for them on the ground, eats considerable amounts of fruits and seeds and even eats the eggs of other birds.
• The Red-headed Woodpecker is not the only woodpecker with a red head. The Red-bellied Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Yellow-belied Sapsucker and both the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers are just a few local species who also have some red markings on their heads. However, the Red-headed Woodpecker is the only one with an entirely red head.

Check back every week to read about a different species at risk that can be found in Lac Deschênes.

You can report sightings of this and other rare species to the Canadian Wildlife Service at (819) 997-2800 or on the MNR Natural Heritage Information Centre website. A photo and a location are very helpful!

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