Thursday, June 25, 2009

Red-Headed Woodpecker

The Red-Headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) is unmistakable in appearance. It is the only woodpecker in North America with a completely red head. They are a fairly large bird reaching lengths up to 9 inches and wingspans up to 16 inches. They are gregarious and aggressive. They are true omnivores and will feed on most anything. They are also one of only four woodpeckers that hoard food. They will hide food away insides cracks or crevices in trees, fence posts or under leaf litter. They will even tuck away live grasshoppers in cracks so tight that the unfortunate individual cannot escape. It has been reported that red-headed woodpeckers will invade duck nesting boxes and peck holes in the eggs. They will also enter other nesting sites and push out the eggs or the offspring of other birds. They defend their territory aggressively, effectively chasing off any competition. Their populations have declined in much of their original breeding territory. Largely due to the loss of forest edges. As forest mature the birds will seek other areas more to their liking. Where there is expansion of beavers these birds thrive and are growing in population. Beavers "cut" down trees and create more flooded areas with dead snags that the woodpecker prefers. They nest in holes in dead trees or large dead branches. They prefer the snags mentioned above, that are often times striped of bark.

They will fly out and "grab" insects and return to the perch from whence they came to eat. They also drill into bark and dead trees for insects. They will sometimes come to feeders to eat peanuts, dried fruit and sunflowers, like the one pictured above. According to many field guides they are supposed to be in NWMO year around. However I only see them in the spring and summer. I enjoy it so much when they return, their colorful plumage brightens the landscape and their antics at the feeders are fun to watch. As long as it isn't me they are coming after with that attitude and sharp beak!

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