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What is a Red Headed Woodpecker?

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  • Written By: Angie Bates
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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The red headed woodpecker is a type of bird which pecks into wood to obtain its food. These woodpeckers range through most of the eastern and mid-eastern United States to the rocky mountains, as well as the eastern regions of Canada. The scientific name for the red headed woodpecker is Melanerpes erythrorephalus.

Measuring about 7.5–9.1 inches (19–23 cm) long, this woodpecker weighs 2–3.2 ounces (56–91 g). As its name suggests, the red headed woodpecker has a completely red head. Its chest is white and its back and wings are black with a large white spot on the lower part of each wing. The cartoon character Woody Woodpecker is thought to be modeled after this species.

The red headed woodpecker's call is a repeating "churr." They can also be identified by the drumming noise they make when drilling trees, however. This noise is heard in one-second bursts that are repeated approximately two or three times.

Although there are over 200 species of woodpeckers, the red headed woodpecker is the only species known to hide its food under bark or roof shingles. It is one of only four species that horde food at all. These woodpeckers are also known to store grasshoppers alive, trapping them in tight crevices so they cannot escape. In addition to insects, red-headed woodpeckers eat nuts, seeds, berries, mice, and other bird eggs and young. They feed not only by pecking into wood to find insects, but are also adept at catching them on the fly.

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Red-headed woodpeckers are extremely territorial and aggressive. They will attack birds who enter their territory, destroy nests, and remove or destroy other birds' eggs. These birds live near forest edges or around areas that have dead or dying trees. They nest in hollows and nooks in dead trees and utility poles.

In February, red-headed woodpeckers begin to build their nests. They may use the same nest from year to year, take over an abandoned nest, or push the current occupants out of an active nest. In April or May, the female will lay four to seven eggs, and both parents will take turns incubating the eggs for 12–14 days. If the first clutch does not produce offspring, the female will lay a second clutch.

The red-headed woodpecker is considered near threatened in the US and vulnerable in Canada. Populations have been declining by 4.6 percent yearly since 1980. This decline is mostly due to habitat destruction, but sport and pest hunting of these birds has also contributed.

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