New York Natural Heritage Program
Red-headed Woodpecker
Melanerpes erythrocephalus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Identifying Characteristics [-]
Melanerpes erythrocephalus is a medium-sized woodpecker with a rounded head, spike-like bill, and a short tail. Adults have a scarlet red head and neck, white underparts, black back, and large white patches on their wings and rump. The white wing patches makes the bird's lower back appear white when it's perched. Immatures have similar marking as adults. Wing patches are white, but there are rows of black spots near the trailing edge. The head is brown or gray-brown instead of red. The flight pattern is similar to blue jay. Nests are typically placed in dead trees or dead parts of live trees. Females lay 3-10 pure white eggs.

Characters Most Useful for Identification [-]
This is the only North American woodpecker with an entirely red head and neck.

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification [-]
Adults are the easiest to identify.

Behavior [-]
Red-headed woodpeckers forage for food in a similar manner to other woodpeckers: by hammering at wood with their bill. They also catch insects in flight and on the ground (Cornell University 2016). Food is sometimes cached, including live grasshoppers that are wedged into crevices (Cornell University 2016). Their territorial behavior includes aggression toward other birds that includes removing eggs and nests.

Diet [-]
Red-headed woodpecker diet includes insects (approximately 1/3) and plants (2/3). They eat a variety of insects, such as beetles, cicadas, grasshoppers, midges, and honeybees. Plant food includes nuts, seeds, berries, and corn. Nests of other birds are sometimes raided with eggs or nestlings consumed.
Red-headed Woodpecker Images
click to enlarge
The Best Time to See
The best time to observe red-headed woodpeckers in New York is during the breeding season from May to August.
Present Breeding
The time of year you would expect to find Red-headed Woodpecker present (blue shading) and breeding (orange shading) in New York.
Similar Species
  • Red-Bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
    The red-bellied woodpecker has a longer, more pointed bill, black and white barring on its back, red only on its crown, and a pale, buff face.
  • Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)
    The pileated woodpecker is larger with a long tail. It has a distinctive red crest. Underparts are black.