(submitted by: Judy Morr)
Is Woody Woodpecker the only woodpecker you know you can identify for sure?
There are actually 6 different woodpeckers seen on Seabrook Island and we will profile each one throughout the year:
- Pileated Woodpecker
- Red Bellied Woodpecker
- Downy Woodpecker
- Northern Flicker
- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (common only in winter)
- Red-headed Woodpecker (seen on Seabrook Island if you know where to look)
Cornell Lab states “Several species of woodpeckers have red on their heads. Only one of these is named Red-headed Woodpecker,” and we will profile them first.
Red-headed Woodpecker – Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Length: 7.5-9.1″; Wingspan: 16.5″; Weight: 2-3.2 oz.
The gorgeous Red-headed Woodpecker is so boldly patterned it’s been called a “flying checkerboard,” with an entirely crimson head, a snow-white body, and half white, half inky black wings. These birds don’t act quite like most other woodpeckers: they’re adept at catching insects in the air, and they eat lots of acorns and beech nuts, often 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.
A Red-headed Woodpecker has an unmarked black back with white wing tips. Their head is completely red including it’s cheeks and throat.
Listen to the sounds they make by clicking Querr calls, drum, & flight churr.
Red-headed Woodpeckers eat insects, fruits, and seeds. Overall, they eat about one-third animal material (mostly insects) and two-thirds plant material. Their insect diet includes beetles, cicadas, midges, honeybees, and grasshoppers. Red-headed Woodpeckers eat seeds, nuts, corn, berries and other fruits; they sometimes raid bird nests to eat eggs and nestlings; they also eat mice and occasionally adult birds.
Red-headed Woodpeckers typically catch aerial insects by spotting them from a perch on a tree limb or fencepost and then flying out to grab them. They forage on the ground and up to 30 feet above the forest floor in summer, whereas in the colder months they forage higher in the trees. In winter Red-headed Woodpeckers catch insects on warm days, but they mostly eat nuts such as acorns, beech nuts, and pecans. Red-headed Woodpeckers cache food by wedging it into crevices in trees or under shingles on houses. They store live grasshoppers, beech nuts, acorns, cherries, and corn, often shifting each item from place to place before retrieving and eating it during the colder months.
Red-headed Woodpeckers are considered Occasional to Rare on Seabrook. Populations appear to be declining. Current tree care usually removes dead stubs or stumps used for nests and they compete with starlings, other woodpeckers and kestrels for nest cavities. Blue Jays and starlings steal their caches. They find creosote-coated utility poles lethal for their young. And to top it off, they don’t use bird houses.
That said, you can find Red-headed Woodpeckers on Seabrook but count yourself lucky each time. Look for them on trunks and branches along the inner streets and golf cart pathways through the island. This week during the Audubon International annual bird count, at least three were seen on both Crooked Oaks and Ocean Winds! They are a special woodpecker! Watch for them flying – golf courses, Camp St. Christopher, etc.
They are potential breeders on the island.
A group of woodpeckers has many collective nouns, including a “descent”, “drumming” and “gatling” of woodpeckers.
(See the range map following the photographs below.)
If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology – All About Birders: Red-headed Woodpecker
- Birds of Seabrook Island: Red-headed Woodpecker
This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents. When possible we will use photographs taken by our members. Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.