The Red-headed woodpecker, belonging to genus Melanerpes, is a medium-sized woodpecker native to temperate North America. It was first described by Carl Linnaeus in this eighteenth century work Systema Naturae. As per Partners in Flight, their present worldwide breeding population is 1.2 million.
Kingdom : Animalia
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Piciformes
Family : Picidae
Genus : Melanerpes
Species : M. erythrocephalus
The scientific name for Red-headed woodpecker is Melanerpes erythrocephalus.
It has three recognized subspecies –
The size of an adult Red-headed woodpecker tend to be around 19 to 25 centimeters in length; and their weight is around 76 grams on average.
They have a wingspan of 42 to 43 centimeters with each wing measuring about 12 to 15 centimeters. The size of their bill is 2.1 to 3 centimeters, and tarsus is between 1.9 to 2.5 centimeters. The plumage of the back and the tail are black, while the head and neck are red. The underparts are primarily white. They have black wings with secondary remiges being white.
They prefer to inhabit open woodlands, forest clearings, forest edges or any habitat with few tall trees. They are also found in river bottoms, orchards, parks, savannas, grasslands and open countrysides.
Their winter range largely depends on the availability of foods, and they are often similar to that of the breeding habitats. They are also found in mature forests that has big, old trees.
Their native geographical range include Rocky mountains in the west, extending all the way to the Atlantic coastline in the east.
Their northern ranges include southern Ontario and Lake Winnipeg, going all the way till Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and Texas in the south. This bird was once abundant in its native ranges. Now, they are found sporadically along its range.
They are strong and fairly skilled fliers compared to other woodpeckers. They play ‘hide and seek’ with potential mates. A breeding pair stay together for several years. They become highly territorial and aggressive during mating season; and in winter, they often become solitary. They are known to engage in fights with other bird species including Pileated Woodpecker and European Starling among others. They look for a potential prey while sitting on a tree branch. They can catch insects while on flight. In warmer months, they mostly forage on ground and areas up to 30 feet above the ground. In winter months, they forage in higher trees. It is one of the four woodpecker species in North America hat store food for the winter. Grasshoppers are one of the species that are regularly stored alive in their hideout.
Males often use their winter roosting cavity as breeding site. Courtship displays include drumming and calling.
At times, male may excavate a new cavity. Female accept a mate by tapping on tree. Female lay 3 to 7 (typically between 4 to 5) eggs. Incubation goes on for 12 to 13 days. Both male and female take part in the incubation with male mostly incubating at night. The nestlings are fed by both parents. The young ones fledge at around 27 to 31 days. Pairs may start second brood while feeding the nestlings of the first brood.
Red-headed woodpeckers are omnivorous. They feed on insects, earthworms, spiders, seeds, berries and nuts. At times, they also eat small mammals, fledglings and eggs of other birds.
In its natural habitat, their lifespan is around 9.9 years.
They produce various types of cackles, chirps and other harsh calls. Their most common call sounds like ‘tchur-tchur.’ They also drum in their territory; and emit high-pitched ‘charr-charr’ notes whan chasing each other.
Loss of habitats and forest clearings, in some of its ranges, are the biggest threats to its survival.
In their natural habitat, their predators include foxes, snakes, flying squirrels, raccoons, Cooper’s Hawks, Eastern Screech-Owls and Peregrine Falcons.
In 2018, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has shifted Red-headed woodpecker in the ‘Least Concern’ category from ‘Near Threatened’ category. Habitat management played an important role in stabilizing its population.
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