Red-headed Woodpecker

August 20, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

It has been a busy past several weeks, but I plan to get back into the groove of regular posts now that fall migration is underway. Even though we have some weeks left... where did our summer go? Todays post covers the Red-headed woodpecker. While not commonly seen by the casual bird watcher or photographer (me), we were lucky this year to have this bird visit our seed feeder over the period of a few days. During this brief visit, I was able to capture a few decent images, one of which is posted here today.

The Red-headed woodpecker is the only member of this species that has a completely red head, and is therefore easy to identify. Unlike most other woodpecker species, it forages for food (both insects and nuts) and stores it for eating at a later time. It is one of the most skilled flycatchers in the woodpecker family. Its numbers have declined, largely because of habitat loss and removal of dead trees used for nesting. The Red-headed woodpecker is a true North American bird due to its range not extending south of the Rio Grande river.

Cool Facts (credit: allaboutbirds.org)

  • The Red-headed Woodpecker is one of only four North American woodpeckers known to store food, and it is the only one known to cover the stored food with wood or bark. It hides insects and seeds in cracks in wood, under bark, in fenceposts, and under roof shingles. Grasshoppers are regularly stored alive, but wedged into crevices so tightly that they cannot escape.
  • Red-headed Woodpeckers are fierce defenders of their territory. They may remove the eggs of other species from nests and nest boxes, destroy other birds’ nests, and even enter duck nest boxes and puncture the duck eggs.
  • The Red-headed Woodpecker benefited from the chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease outbreaks of the twentieth century. Though these diseases devastated trees they provided many nest sites and foraging opportunities for the woodpeckers.
  • The striking Red-headed Woodpecker has earned a place in human culture. Cherokee Indians used the species as a war symbol, and it makes an appearance in Longfellow’s epic poemThe Song of Hiawatha, telling how a grateful Hiawatha gave the bird its red head in thanks for its service.
  • The Red-headed Woodpecker has many nicknames, including half-a-shirt, shirt-tail bird, jellycoat, flag bird, and the flying checker-board.
  • Pleistocene-age fossils of Red-headed Woodpeckers—up to 2 million years old—have been unearthed in Florida, Virginia, and Illinois.
  • The Red-headed Woodpecker was the “spark bird” (the bird that starts a person’s interest in birds) of legendary ornithologist Alexander Wilson in the 1700s.
  • The oldest Red-headed Woodpecker on record was banded in 1926 in Michigan and lived to be at least 9 years, 11 months old.

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