Nature Profile


Red-headed Woodpecker

Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Voice:kweer , kweer, kweer

While the red-headed woodpecker is not one of the most common birds at The Holden Arboretum, it is one of the most noteworthy. According to the Audubon Ohio Watch List 2007, “Once abundant in Ohio’s oak-hickory forests and woodlots, this species has declined 78 percent to an estimated population of 35,000 birds. Competition for nest-cavities with non-native invasive species, and habitat loss due to urbanization and changing agricultural practices may have contributed towards the species’ decline.” Audubon’s Important Bird Area program is a vital tool for the conservation of Red-headed Woodpeckers as well as other species. As a dedicated Important Bird Area, Holden provides perfect habitat for this bird species.

Its striking red hood, and black and white back stands out against the deciduous woodlands. It especially likes to establish nesting sites in beech, oak or river bottom forests; groves of dead and dying trees; orchards; parks; open country with scattered trees; forest edges; and open wooded swamps with dead trees and stumps. The red-headed woodpecker eats insects, earthworms, spiders, seeds, nuts, fruit, bird eggs, and nestlings. This species is the most adapted of all the woodpeckers for catching insects while in flight. It perches on a limb and waits until it sees an insect then flies out to catch it in mid-air. Red-headed woodpeckers also forage on the ground and glean food from vegetation.

While rare in Northeastern Ohio during the winter, the red-headed woodpecker can be found in Southern Ohio, storing acorns and nuts in natural crevices and cavities of trees and posts, and under bark, railroad ties and shingles. One of the most interesting foods the red-headed woodpecker has been known to store is live grasshoppers. They can wedge grasshoppers so tightly into a tree crevice that it can’t move. It is also the only woodpecker known to cover stored food with wet bark or wood.

If you happen to see the red-headed woodpecker while strolling through the Layer Rhododendron Garden consider yourself lucky to see this beautiful must see bird.

Want to help the Red-headed woodpecker and other cavity nesters? Consider leaving dead and dying trees on your property for food storage and nesting sites.

For more information about the status of the red-headed woodpecker and other birds go to

Best Location to View: Helen Layer Rhododendron Garden

Color: Bright red head and neck; white breast, belly and rump; and black back and tail. Black wings with prominent white inner flight feathers, visible in flight and at rest. Both sexes look alike.

Range: Breeds from southern Canada to Gulf Coast, east of the Rocky Mountains and west of New England and eastern Canada. Winters: southern part of breeding range and farther southwest in Texas.

Size: 7-9"

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