The red-headed woodpecker has an all-red head, throat, and nape of neck, with black upperparts and a white patch on the trailing edge of each wing, a white rump, and all-white underparts. Juvenile has a brown head and a black line in the white wing patch. The voice is a loud, descending “kweeer.”
Similar species: The closely related red-bellied woodpecker cannot easily be confused with this species except in name. (Most woodpeckers have some amount of red on the head.) Red-bellied woodpeckers have grayish-white underparts and black-and-white banded upperparts. The red is limited to a red band from the bill over the crown to the nape (males) and or the nape only (females).
Length: 9¼ inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).
Habitat and Conservation
A bird of woodlands, forests, parks, and suburban areas. Also visits backyard bird feeders for suet and seeds, corn, acorns, and fruit. In summer, look for it in open woodlands and forests with tall dead trees. In winter, it is sporadic and uncommon in the forests of southern Missouri and rare to locally common in northern Missouri.
Forages in trees for acorns, insects, berries, and bird eggs. During the fall, gathers and caches (stores) acorns and other nuts in cavities in trees. Usually several individuals will be present in a woodland area where acorn production has been good that year. During the winter the woodpeckers defend their caches against bird intruders that might steal their acorns. In spring, they shift to on-the-wing fly-catching for some of their diet and feeding young.
Common summer resident; uncommon (south) and rare (north) winter resident. This species is near-threatened. It has been declining severely—about 70 percent since the mid-1960s—because of habitat loss and disruptions to its food supply. They require mature forests with dead trees and branches for nesting habitat, as well as good crops of nuts for food. Both of these have been declining and disappearing, and so has the red-headed woodpecker.
Like many other woodpeckers, this species excavates nest holes in the wood of dead or decaying trees or limbs. Clutches comprise 3-10 eggs, which incubate 12-14 days. Fledging occurs 24-31 days later. There are 1 or 2 broods annually. This species of woodpecker usually returns to the same nest hole year after year. When they are done with it, numerous other species of birds (and other animals) use woodpecker nest holes for their own families.
Red-headed woodpeckers are one of the most beautiful of North American birds. They figure into Native American culture and have inspired many ornithologists. Landowners can help woodpeckers by allowing dead trees and branches to remain in place, providing nesting habitat for woodpeckers.
Woodpeckers prey on many insects inhabiting and overwintering in the bark of trees, limiting the populations of many injurious species. Many cavity-nesting birds, such as bluebirds, cannot excavate their own holes and thus rely on the presence of woodpeckers for nesting locations.
Where to See Species
About 350 species of birds are likely to be seen in Missouri, though nearly 400 have been recorded within our borders. Most people know a bird when they see one — it has feathers, wings, and a bill. Birds are warm-blooded, and most species can fly. Many migrate hundreds or thousands of miles. Birds lay hard-shelled eggs (often in a nest), and the parents care for the young. Many communicate with songs and calls.