Jill Smith of Fluvanna County said that she has had a special visitor at her feeder for five days in a row – a Red-headed Woodpecker. That’s like seeing Elvis at the mall five trips in a row.
Many confuse Red-headed Woodpeckers with the far more common, Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Red-bellied Woodpeckers indeed have a red head, but only partially. A Red-headed Woodpecker has a fire engine red head, a snow white breast with jet-black and partially white wings. When and if you see one, you’ll know it. Jill said she has only seen one bird, but is hoping a mate might show up.
Red-headed woodpeckers have been on a long-term decline, though recent environmental practices have seemed to stabilize their populations.
According to the Audubon folks, Red-headed Woodpeckers live in pine savannahs and other open forests with clear understories. Open pine plantations, tree rows in agricultural areas, and standing timber in beaver swamps and other wetlands all attract Red-headed Woodpeckers. In addition to catching insects by the normal woodpecker method of hammering at wood, Red-headed Woodpeckers also catch insects in flight and hunt for them on the ground. They also eat considerable amounts of fruit and seeds. Their raspy calls are shriller and scratchier than that of the Red-bellied Woodpecker. Competition with other cavity nesters such as European starlings or red-bellied woodpeckers has been another factor in their decline.
Even though we have old and dying trees, I have never seen a Red-headed woodpecker in our yard. We have all the others, though – Pileated, Red-bellied, Downy and Hairy woodpeckers.
Here’s hoping Jill and Bart find a pair of these beautiful birds in their yard and can watch them raise a family.