How to Attract Red Headed Woodpeckers (& Protect Populations)

Red-headed woodpeckers are a striking species of woodpecker native to North America. Known for their bold red heads, contrasting black bodies, and white wing patches, these birds captivate birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. Their populations have been in decline in recent years, making it all the more important for people to create inviting habitats that will attract and support these beautiful creatures.

In many parts of their range, red-headed woodpeckers are considered a species of concern, with habitat loss and competition for resources posing significant threats. By learning more about their preferred nesting sites, feeding habits, and general behavior, it is possible to implement strategies that will help attract and conserve these charismatic birds. This article aims to provide practical advice for creating an ideal environment for red-headed woodpeckers in backyard settings, ensuring their survival and thriving for generations to come.

Key Takeaways

  • Identifying red-headed woodpeckers and understanding their habits can lead to successful backyard attraction.
  • Providing appropriate nesting sites and food sources can help support populations of this declining species.
  • Observing and protecting red-headed woodpeckers can positively impact ecosystem health and function.

Identifying Red-Headed Woodpeckers

The Red-headed Woodpecker is a striking bird, easily identifiable by its bold colors and unique patterns. To spot one of these stunning woodpeckers, look for the following characteristics:

The first noticeable feature of a Red-headed Woodpecker is its vibrant, entirely crimson head. This bold red coloration sets it apart from other woodpeckers, making it easy to identify. Both male and female Red-headed Woodpeckers share this vibrant head color, with no substantial differences between the sexes.

Moving on to their body size, these woodpeckers are medium-sized birds, comfortably fitting in your hand if you were to hold one. Perfectly adapted to a life of pecking and drumming on trees, their build is sturdy yet streamlined.

A key characteristic of Red-headed Woodpeckers is their unique wing pattern. These birds have half white, half inky black wings, creating a striking contrast that makes them easy to spot. This eye-catching “flying checkerboard” pattern is a great indicator that you’re looking at a Red-headed Woodpecker.

Apart from the vibrant red head and contrasting wings, their body is snow-white, beautifully complementing the overall pattern. This white body coloration, combined with the red head and dual-colored wings, make the Red-headed Woodpecker stand out among other bird species.

In summary, identifying Red-headed Woodpeckers is a simple task thanks to their distinct features. Remember to look for the vibrant red head, snow-white body, half white and half black wings, and the absence of any noticeable differences between male and female birds. With their confident demeanor, unique appearance, and clear presence, these woodpeckers are a beautiful sight to behold in the wild.

Habitat and Nesting


The Red-headed Woodpecker is a notable backyard bird found across North America. These birds prefer habitats with a mix of dead trees, deciduous trees, and forest edges. They are also found in areas with snags, scrubby shrubs, and sometimes near open grasslands for foraging. This combination of habitats allows them to perch, nest, and search for food with ease.

Nesting Sites

As cavity nesters, Red-headed Woodpeckers choose nesting sites in dead trees or snags. These woodpeckers often prefer trees with a diameter of at least 10 inches and a height of 15-50 feet. They excavate a cavity, typically 10-25 feet away from the ground, with a small entrance leading to a larger nesting chamber. Ideally, the chosen tree should be accessible and not too crowded with other trees or branches.

To increase the chances of Red-headed Woodpeckers nesting in your backyard, try the following:

  • Keep dead trees or snags as potential nesting sites.
  • Encourage the growth of deciduous trees and scrubby shrubs in your yard.
  • Maintain a healthy distance between trees to give woodpeckers room to maneuver.

Breeding Season

The breeding season for Red-headed Woodpeckers usually starts in late April and continues through August. During this time, they become more migratory, with some populations traveling northward to find ideal nesting areas. After forming pairs, both the male and female participate in creating the nest cavity and incubating the eggs.

In summary, if you want to attract Red-headed Woodpeckers to your backyard, focus on providing a suitable habitat with a combination of dead trees, deciduous trees, and nesting sites. By doing so, you will contribute to the conservation of these beautiful backyard birds and enjoy their presence during the breeding season.

Feeding Preferences

Natural Diet

Red-headed woodpeckers have a diverse diet that primarily consists of insects and other small creatures. These birds are known to eat insects such as wood-boring insects, spiders, earthworms, and even mice when given the opportunity. In addition to insects, they also consume various types of nuts, seeds, and fruits. Common items in their diet include acorns, beechnuts, corn, pecans, and berries like apples, oranges, and grapes. These woodpeckers not only forage on tree trunks and branches, but they also can catch insects in midair and explore fallen leaf litter for food.

Feeders and Food Selection

If you want to attract red-headed woodpeckers to your yard, setting up a bird feeder with a selection of their preferred foods is a great idea. Make sure to choose a feeder with enough space for larger birds and compartments to store different types of food.

To entice them to visit, fill your feeders with black-oil sunflower seeds, suet, and other nutritious options. You can either purchase store-bought suet cakes or make your own using beef fat straight from the butcher. A basic suet cage feeder will work well for this purpose.

In addition to seeds and suet, red-headed woodpeckers enjoy a variety of fruits, nuts, and berries. Offering options like apples, oranges, grapes, acorns, beechnuts, and pecans will tempt them to visit your feeder and spend more time in your yard.

By providing a selection of their favorite foods in a comfortable, well-designed feeder, you’ll make your yard an appealing destination for red-headed woodpeckers and enjoy the beauty and natural insect control they bring to your outdoor space.

Methods for Attracting Red-Headed Woodpeckers

Provide Food Sources

Red-headed woodpeckers are attracted to a variety of food sources, which you can provide in your yard. One popular option is suet, a high-energy food made from a mix of fat, nuts, berries, or seeds. You can purchase suet cakes or blocks, or even make your own, and place them in a suet feeder for the woodpeckers to enjoy.

Another food source to consider is bird feeders filled with seeds, nuts, and dried fruits. Red-headed woodpeckers particularly enjoy sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and peanuts. Make sure you have a good-quality bird feeder that can accommodate woodpeckers and other birds visiting your yard.

Providing Shelter

Creating a sheltered, natural habitat for red-headed woodpeckers will increase the chances of attracting them to your yard. This includes maintaining trees with dead branches and avoiding the over-trimming of trees, as woodpeckers often use these for nesting and searching for insects to eat. Additionally, ensure that your yard has some adequate cover, such as dense shrubs or hedges, where woodpeckers can feel safe.

Installing Nesting Boxes

To encourage red-headed woodpeckers to take up residence in your yard, you can install nest boxes specifically designed for them. These boxes should have an entrance hole of about 2 inches in diameter and be placed at least 10-20 feet above the ground on a tree or pole.

When installing a nest box, place it in a quiet, shady spot in your yard that is not easily accessible to predators. Also, make sure to clean and sanitize the box at the end of each nesting season to ensure it remains a welcoming and safe home for future woodpeckers.

By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to luring red-headed woodpeckers into your yard, providing a wonderful opportunity to observe and enjoy these beautiful birds up close.

Observing Red-Headed Woodpecker Behavior

Red-headed Woodpeckers, scientifically known as Melanerpes erythrocephalus, are members of the Picidae family. Their behavior is fascinating to observe, as they are known for their agility and unique actions. One of the most notable characteristics of these birds is their year-round presence in parts of North America, making them accessible to birdwatchers throughout the year.

With respect to their call, Red-headed Woodpeckers emit a distinctive noise that is often described as a loud, sharp “quee-ark.” This vocalization is essential for communication with other woodpeckers and plays a significant role in attracting mates.

In terms of aggression, these birds can be surprisingly assertive when confronted or defending their territory. They have been observed engaging in aerial combat and chasing away intruders, which could stem from their protective instincts towards their nests and mate. This assertiveness also applies to their foraging habits, as they will zealously guard their food sources from other birds.

Red-headed Woodpeckers are proficient foragers who are comfortable in both midair and on the ground. They have been known to snatch insects right out of the air and also investigate leaf litter for hidden treats. Demonstrating a degree of intelligence and foresight, they will even cache pieces of nuts, acorns, and insects in small cavities for consumption during the non-breeding season.

Birdwatchers can observe these fascinating behaviors in a variety of habitats, such as woodlands and forest edges. By providing an environment that appeals to these woodpeckers – like offering black-oil sunflower seeds and suet feeders – enthusiasts can potentially attract these birds to their own backyard.

Observing Red-headed Woodpecker behavior provides an opportunity to learn more about these remarkable birds and their unique traits. From their distinctive call to their confident, assertive territorial displays, there is much to appreciate about the Red-headed Woodpecker’s daily life.

Protective Measures for Red-Headed Woodpeckers

Red-headed woodpeckers are a beautiful and unique species of birds to have around your yard. By offering a safe and welcoming environment, you can attract them and help them thrive.

The first key to making your yard a haven for red-headed woodpeckers is protecting them from more aggressive species such as starlings and bluebirds. The competition for food and nesting locations can disturb the woodpeckers, so it’s essential to monitor your yard for the presence of these bird species. Install specialized birdhouses that make it difficult for larger, aggressive birds to enter. This will provide a safer nesting space for the woodpeckers and help prevent competition.

Another crucial factor in providing protection for red-headed woodpeckers is offering appropriate shelter. Since these birds are particularly fond of dead tree limbs and fallen logs, consider leaving a few around your yard. This will not only provide the birds with natural shelter but also help attract insects that they enjoy eating.

Food is an important aspect of attracting red-headed woodpeckers and keeping them safe. Woodpeckers are known to store food during the winter months, so providing a food source that is readily available for them is essential. Offer a variety of foods such as suet, seeds, and nuts in feeders placed around the yard. Be sure to provide ample food supply, as this will encourage the birds to stay in your yard and not venture off in search of food, which could potentially lead to their exposure to predators or other dangers.

Additionally, make sure to provide clean water for the woodpeckers by regularly cleaning and refilling bird baths. A clean and fresh water source will not only ensure that the birds stay hydrated, but it will also help ward off diseases that can spread from contaminated water supplies.

By offering protective measures for red-headed woodpeckers in your yard, you are creating a safe and thriving environment for these colorful and fascinating creatures. Remember to be diligent in your efforts to keep these beautiful birds safe from competing species, provide shelter and a healthy food supply, and maintain a clean water source. In doing so, you are sure to enjoy the presence of red-headed woodpeckers for years to come.

Interactions in the Ecosystem

Red-headed woodpeckers are fascinating birds with their vibrant colors and unique behaviors, but they are just one among a diverse group of woodpecker species. Interactions with other woodpecker species like the northern flicker, pileated woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, gilded flicker, Gila woodpecker, and various sapsuckers like yellow-bellied, red-breasted, and red-naped sapsucker enrich the ecosystem they inhabit.

These woodpeckers, along with songbirds, contribute to the overall health of forest ecosystems. They are known as the engineers of their environment, as they help control insect populations by feeding on them and creating cavities in trees for nesting and roosting. These cavities are not only used by woodpeckers but also become homes for other species, including songbirds.

Trees with existing or newly created cavities attract a wide variety of insects, which in turn attract different woodpecker species. Each species has its distinct preferences and feeding strategies, ensuring a balance in the ecosystem.

Here are some noteworthy behaviors among different woodpecker species:

  • Northern flicker: Known for their appetite for ants found on the ground, they do occasionally forage on trees for insects, bringing variety to their diet.
  • Pileated woodpecker: They prefer large, dead trees to create their cavities and feed on carpenter ants, beetles, and wood-boring insects.
  • Hairy and downy woodpeckers: These woodpeckers are similar in appearance, but the hairy woodpecker is larger. They both feed on insects found in tree bark, with the hairy woodpecker preferring larger trees.
  • Red-bellied woodpecker: Able to store nuts in tree crevices, they have a varied diet which includes insects, fruits, and nuts.
  • Gilded flicker & Gila woodpecker: Primarily found in the Southwest, these two species inhabit saguaro cactus forests, creating cavities in the cacti for nesting.

As for sapsuckers, they feed on tree sap, insects, and fruits. Their feeding behavior creates small holes in tree bark, making it easier for other birds to access food resources.

In conclusion, red-headed woodpeckers and other woodpecker species play a vital role in maintaining the balance and health of forest ecosystems. By providing homes for songbirds and contributing to the control of insect populations, they prove themselves to be indispensable in their environment. By understanding their interactions, we can devise better strategies to attract and support these amazing birds.

Frequently Asked Questions

What types of food sources attract red-headed woodpeckers?

Red-headed woodpeckers are attracted to a variety of food sources. They primarily feed on insects, spiders, earthworms, and nuts, but will also consume berries, seeds, and even corn. Providing black-oil sunflower seeds and suet in your feeders can be a great way to entice these birds to visit your yard1.

Which nesting materials can encourage red-headed woodpeckers to nest nearby?

Red-headed woodpeckers prefer dead trees for nesting2. They typically create holes in the dead wood to build their nests, so providing birdhouses or nest boxes with small cavities can encourage them to nest in your area. Additionally, maintaining a few dead or partially dead trees in your yard can provide these birds with suitable natural nesting sites.

What type of trees do red-headed woodpeckers prefer?

These woodpeckers can be found in various tree types such as oak trees, redwood trees, pine trees, and many more3. While they may have preferences for certain tree species, their main concern is the availability of dead trees for nesting and perching opportunities.

Do red-headed woodpeckers favor a specific time for nesting?

Red-headed woodpeckers usually nest during spring and early summer. Their nesting season may differ slightly based on geographic location, but it generally occurs between April and July.

What are the ideal habitats for red-headed woodpeckers?

The preferred habitat for red-headed woodpeckers is deciduous forests, especially near streams and woodlands3. These birds are mainly found in forested areas with an abundance of dead trees for nesting. They also require open spaces for foraging and catching insects in midair.

How can one create a bird-friendly environment to attract red-headed woodpeckers?

To create a woodpecker-friendly space, consider providing suitable food sources such as black-oil sunflower seeds and suet in your feeders1. Additionally, ensure there are dead or partially dead trees in your yard to provide ideal nesting and perching opportunities. You can also install birdhouses or nest boxes with small cavities to encourage nesting. Lastly, provide a water source like a birdbath, as water is essential for birds’ survival and well-being.


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