Red-headed Woodpecker

Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Red-headed Woodpecker by Jim Hudgins USFWS

Known as a “flying checkerboard,” the gorgeous red-headed woodpecker is a boldly patterned species with an entirely crimson head, a snow-white body and half white, half inky black wings. Not only are they eye-catching, but red-headed woodpeckers are also unique among woodpeckers in general in that they are adept at catching insects in the air, and also eat lots of acorns and beech nuts, frequently hiding away extra food in tree crevices for later. This magnificent species has declined severely in the past half-century because of habitat loss and changes to its food supply.

Red-headed woodpeckers reside in Illinois year-round, where they live in a variety of forest and edge habitats, including black oak savannas, and breed in deciduous woodlands. These woodpeckers nest in trees, which they excavate after males first select a site, and females then indicate their approval by tapping around the area. They often prefer dead snags with smoother surfaces and less bark to deter snakes and other potential predators, which include raccoons, foxes, Cooper's hawks, starlings, and even pileated woodpeckers.

Both males and females work together to excavate and build nests over an average of 12 to 17 days. Female red-headed woodpeckers then lay between 3 to 10 eggs per clutch, with 1 to 2 broods per breeding season. Incubation occurs over 12 to 14 days, and nestlings remain in the nest for around 24 to 31 days before fledging.

Fun Fact: Prospective mates play "hide and seek" with each other around snags and stumps, and often stay together for several years.

Facts About Red-headed Woodpecker

Listing Status

Not Listed; protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Maximum Known Lifespan

9 years, 11 months

Reproductive Age

1 years


Insects, fruits and seeds


Length: 7.5-9.1 in (19-23 cm), Weight: 2.0-3.2 oz (56-91 g), Wingspan: 16.5 in (42 cm)