According to the International Ornithological Committee (IOC), there are 239 species of woodpeckers. One of the most striking attributes of these birds is the red coloration of their heads.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the various species of woodpeckers with red heads and explore their unique characteristics, behaviors, and habitats. Whether you are a bird enthusiast or simply saw one in your backyard, this article will provide you with a wealth of information about these remarkable birds.
Woodpeckers With Red Heads
- Scientific Name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Red-headed woodpeckers are medium-sized woodpeckers commonly found around parks, forests, and woodlands of North America. They breed across southern Canada and east-central parts of the USA from April to September, and around October migrate to their wintering grounds in southern parts of the USA.
Recognize these conspicuous birds by their black backs, white wing patches and underparts, white and unstreaked bellies, and brilliant red heads. Males and females are almost identical.
Even their scientific name refers to their red heads: the word “erythrocephalus” comes from the Greek words “eruthros” which means “red” and “kephalos” which means “headed”. Due to such interesting looks, people have often called them “flying checkerboards”.
To catch the insects, red-headed woodpeckers will hammer at the tree bark, wait for them to come out, and catch them in flight; they might even hunt for them on the ground. These birds are omnivores that also feed on seeds, fruits, berries, nuts, and occasionally small rodents.
Red-headed woodpeckers are one of the four species of North American woodpeckers that store food by covering it with wood or bark. They will stuff it in tree cavities, crevices, and under tree bark.
In case you want to attract red-headed woodpeckers to your backyard, make sure to add suet to your feeders.
- Scientific Name: Melanerpes carolinus
These medium-sized woodpeckers are common in forests of the eastern USA. Their bright colors and entertaining behavior make them an unforgettable sight; just make sure not to confuse them with red-headed woodpeckers.
Red-bellied woodpeckers have striped black and white backs, grayish underparts, red napes, and red on the center of their bellies; males are red from the top of their heads to the beaks while the females are only red on their napes.
Red-bellied woodpeckers are rather noisy and will often make drumming sounds by tapping with their beaks on hollow trees or roofs. Males will start digging their nests in dead tree trunks and softly tap on the tree to attract females; if interested, they will join them, and the pair will finish the nest together.
Attract red-bellied woodpeckers to your backyard by adding sunflower seeds and different nuts to your bird feeder; add suet during winter as they are also fond of it.
- Scientific Name: Sphyrapicus ruber
These medium-sized woodpeckers are common in the forests on the west coast of North America. Upright posture, rounded heads, chisel-like bills, and striking red heads make red-breasted sapsuckers one of the most prized for the US bird watchers.
Identify them in nature by their red heads and breasts, black backs with large white wing patches. Both sexes look alike.
Sapsuckers got the name for drilling ring-like rows of shallow holes in trees called “sap wells” to get to sap with their brush-tipped tongues. They will make a hole and then come back later when the sap starts flowing.
This is also important for other species of insects, birds, and mammals, as they also feed from those sap wells. For example, rufous hummingbirds will sometimes follow sapsuckers and take advantage of such food sources.
A rather noisy species, red-breasted sapsuckers will make a variety of nasal calls and irregular drumming sounds. Attract red-breasted sapsuckers to your backyard by adding suet feeders or planting aspen, birch, or pine trees.
- Scientific Name: Dryocopus pileatus
Pileated woodpeckers are one of the largest woodpeckers native to North America. They breed in the forests of Canada, the eastern USA, and on the Pacific coast.
The word “pileated” comes from the Latin word “pileatus” which means “capped” – pileated woodpeckers are primarily black with a prominent red crest on their heads.
They also have white lines on their throats and white on their wings. Males also have red lines on the side of their heads; this is absent in females.
Look for them hitting dead trees in pursuit of ants and making rectangular holes in the process. These black and red woodpeckers are omnivores that feed on insects (especially carpenter ants), fruits, nuts, and berries.
They are rare around bird feeders; the only way they visit them is if the winter is extremely cold. Try to attract pileated woodpeckers to your backyard by adding suet to your feeders, leaving dead trees for them to forage or roost there, or putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair.
Pileated woodpeckers are crucial for making tree holes that other bird and animal species use to nest. The famous cartoon character, Woody Woodpecker, is said to have been based on pileated woodpeckers.
- Scientific Name: Sphyrapicus nuchalis
Red-naped sapsuckers are striking medium-sized woodpeckers found in western parts of North America. Their common name, “red-naped” refers to red head patches while “sapsucker” refers to their unique way of feeding.
Red-aped sapsuckers have black and white plumage with red caps, napes, and throats; try to spot a long white bar along their folded wings. Females and males look similar but the main difference is the white chin patch in females.
These active woodpeckers love to climb up and down trees and just like other sapsuckers, will make sap wells in trees to feed. They will also eat insects that are attracted to the sap.
Red-naped sapsuckers will also make different nasal calls and irregular drumming sounds. A lot of different birds like mountain bluebirds, nuthatches, and chickadees, will use nest holes these red-headed woodpeckers drill.
- Scientific Name: Dryocopus javensis
White-bellied woodpeckers are large woodpeckers that live in evergreen forests of tropical Asia. These birds have 14 subspecies with many of them being endangered or even extinct.
White-bellied woodpeckers are also known as great black woodpeckers and scientists consider them to be closely related to North American pileated woodpeckers. Besides the similarity in size, the two species also have bright red crests on their heads. White-bellied woodpeckers are black with white bellies and pale eyes.
They can be often seen alone or in pairs, on or around tall dead trees. Compared to some smaller woodpeckers, white-bellied ones will make louder drums and calls.
- Scientific Name: Chrysocolaptes erythrocephalus
These rare and large woodpeckers are endemic to the Philippines, in the region of Palawan.
Green backs and wings and bright red heads make red-headed flamebacks one of the most spectacular birds in the world. Females also have bright red heads with some orange spots on their crowns.
These woodpeckers are common around forests and forest edges where they often make loud metallic trills and loud nasal squeaks. Due to habitat loss and hunting, their population has been decreasing. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) now lists them as Near Threatened species with a total population of just 1,000-2,500 individuals.
- Scientific Name: Piculus simplex
Often found in the canopy of humid forests of Central America, rufous-winged woodpeckers are fairly small birds. They live in Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama.
Rufous-winged woodpeckers can be identified by their bright red crowns and mustaches, barred bellies, and overall olive-green color. Females look similar to males but only have red on their napes.
- Scientific Name: Celeus obrieni
These stunning red headed woodpeckers are endemic to Brazil and listed as Endangered. Also known as Piauí woodpeckers, they were considered extinct before experts captured a male in 2006.
Kaempfer’s woodpeckers were named after Emil Kaempfer who collected the type. They can be recognized by their chestnut red heads and flight feathers, buff backs and underparts, and black tails and chests.
Kaempfer’s woodpeckers are common in bamboo forests along rivers where they mostly feed on ants. They will often make a series of squeaky calls that are followed by bubbling notes.
- Scientific Name: Celeus galeatus
Helmeted woodpeckers are rather large birds found in South America. They live in the tropical forests of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.
Adults have chisel-like beaks, cinnamon faces, red heads with crests, and white neck stripes. Their backs and wings are black with barred black and cream underparts.
Helmeted woodpeckers have an interesting tactic of preventing larger birds and animals from attacking them – they mimic the looks (red heads, black backs, and barred underparts) of two larger species of woodpeckers, the lineated and robust ones.
Although they inhabit a large area, helmeted woodpeckers are not so common. Due to deforestation and habitat loss, their population has been on the decline with some estimates claiming it to be under 10,000 birds.
- Scientific Name: Campephilus rubricollis
Red-necked woodpeckers are large woodpeckers primarily found in subtropical or tropical moist lowland and moist montane forests of South America. They are common in countries like Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Guyana.
Red-necked woodpeckers have deep red heads, necks, and underparts, together with black wings and backs. Their beaks are pale grayish-white.
They are often found in pairs and family groups, at large dead trunks within the forest. Red-necked woodpeckers are omnivores that feed on trees, consuming larvae of large beetles and moths, and some fruit.
- Scientific Name: Campephilus robustus
These enormous woodpeckers are common in the humid forests of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.
Robust woodpeckers have bright red heads with short crests, black backs, and barred underparts. They also have greenish beaks shaped like chisels. Both sexes look similar; females lack the black and white spots that males have on their ear coverts.
Robust woodpeckers can be seen alone, in pairs, or in family groups. Similar to other woodpeckers, they will make holes in trees to nest and lay 2-4 white eggs that both parents incubate.
- Scientific Name: Campephilus guatemalensis
These huge red-headed woodpeckers are found in tropical forests from northern Mexico to western Panama. They look like lineated woodpeckers but are slightly bigger.
Adults can be identified by their black upperparts, black throats, and white underparts barred with black and white shoulder lines that make a V shape on their backs. Males also have red heads and crests while females look similar but their crests and throats are black.
These woodpeckers will make characteristic drumming with 2 strong taps and dig holes in trees to find insects.
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- Scientific Name: Campephilus leucopogon
Striking red heads, unique facial patterns, and a creamy-white patch on their upper backs, make these woodpeckers very popular among birders. Cream-colored woodpeckers live in subtropical and tropical dry forests of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
A small patch of black and white under ear coverts decorates the stunning red heads of the males; females also have black foreheads. Their beaks are long and ivory-colored while their legs are gray.
Cream-backed woodpeckers can be usually seen alone, in pairs, or in family groups, as they feed on larvae. They will often make a nasal call or kettledrum-like rolls consisting of 4-6 strikes.
- Scientific Name: Campephilus magellanicus
One of the biggest woodpeckers in South America and one of the largest in the world, Magellanic woodpeckers are iconic birds that live in southern Chile and southwestern Argentina.
These birds have black plumage and white wing patches; males have flame-red heads and crests while females have black ones.
They can be often seen in pairs or family groups, actively feeding on wood-boring grubs, beetles, and spiders. The species can be also recognized by their loud, resonant, rapid double-tap drumming.
This concludes our list of red-headed woodpecker species. Some examples of woodpeckers with red heads include red-headed woodpeckers, helmeted woodpeckers, red-headed flamebacks, robust woodpeckers, and many others.
Hopefully next time you see these, you will recognize any of them with ease!