Red-Headed Woodpecker

Melanerpes erythrocephalus

The Red-Headed Woodpecker is one of only four North American woodpeckers known to store food. It is the only one known to cover these stores with wood or bark. They sometimes hide insects and seeds in cracks in wood, under bark, in fence posts, or under roof shingles. They regularly store grasshoppers alive. The bugs get wedged into crevices so tightly that escape is impossible.

With their striking coloration, Red-Headed Woodpeckers have earned a place in human culture. Cherokee Indians used the species as a war symbol. They also appeared in a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha”. The narrative includes a story of how a grateful Hiawatha gave the bird its red head as thanks for its service.

“Spark bird” is a term given to a bird that starts a person’s interest in birds. In the 1700s, Red-Headed Woodpeckers ignited the ‘spark’ that triggered the interest of legendary ornithologist Alexander Wilson.

Taxonomists regard Red-Headed Woodpeckers as monotypic. We recognize no subspecies.

In 2023, I toured North America in my RV. My path included a north to south drive through the Appalachian Mountains. One highlight was a visit to Virginia’s Sky Meadows State Park, where I met these iconic birds for the first time. I had a mental list of eastern birds I hoped to meet on the trip, and this bird was on it. There were bird species on the ‘list’ that I failed to meet. But it pleased me that I did not miss this one.

Range Map for Red-Headed Woodpecker
Range Map

10 Photos

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