Red-headed Woodpecker

Photo Credit: Ted Krug

Melanerpes erythrocephalus


  • COSEWIC – Threatened.
  • COSSARO – Special concern.

Please note: The Ontario population is estimated at less that 7000 pairs down from a population of approximately 10,000 pairs pre 1980.


  • Distinctive red hood, white under body with white and black back and rump.
  • Wings are black with large white patches. These patches are prominent in flight.
  • 22-25 cm in size.
  • Female is identical but slightly smaller.


  • Over winter in south-western Texas and return by the end of May.
  • Widespread but rare in southern Ontario.
  • Aggressive and will drive off Blue Jays.
  • Eat insects, nuts, fruit, eggs, and nestlings of other birds.
  • Oak acorns and beech nuts can be important part of diet.


  • Males choose nest sites. They prefer cavities in a dead or partially dead deciduous tree, but will nest in living trees, hollow posts and utility poles.
  • Adults often return to nest in the same cavity, the same tree or the immediate area.
  • Monogamous.
  • Females lay a clutch of 4 to 7 eggs between May and July.
  • Both parents sit on the eggs and later tend the hatchlings.

Red Headed Woodpecker Photo Credit: Ted Krug


  • Open deciduous forests, such as oak savannah with large mature trees.


  • Habitat loss due to forestry and agricultural practises, dead tree removal, road mortality and competitions from European Starlings for nesting sites.
  • Loss of habitat in wintering grounds also a factor.

Conservation Actions:

  • If it is safe to do so, leave large dead trees standing on your property. This will provide food and shelter for a range of species from woodpeckers, to owls and flying squirrels.
  • Consider participating in the Red Shouldered Hawk and Spring Woodpecker Survey.

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