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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Red-headed Woodpecker -- Melanerpes erythrocephalus

RANGE: Breeds from southern Saskatchewan, southern Ontario, southern New Hampshire, and southern New Brunswick south to central Texas, the Gulf Coast and Florida, extending west to central Montana, eastern Wyoming, eastern Colorado, and central New Mexico, rarely to northeastern Utah. Winters regularly through the southern two-thirds of the breeding range, rarely or casually north to the limits of the breeding range.

STATUS: Common, but declining in the Southeast.

HABITAT: Inhabits relatively open forests or woodlots with low stem density, preferring savannahlike grasslands with scattered trees and forest edges. Attracted to areas with many dead trees which provide nesting and roosting sites, and lush herbaceous ground cover that produces abundant insect populations. Tends to avoid forests with closed canopies, but will move from forest edges to the interior during winter.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Relatively open forests with dead and dying trees for cavities and feeding perches.

NEST: Nests generally in the trunk of a dead tree but sometimes in a dead limb. Tends to select isolated snags for nesting, especially those without bark.

FOOD: In summer, mostly eats insects caught by hawking from perches in dead trees; stores mast, mainly acorns, beechnuts, and corn, under bark, in cracks, knotholes, and tree cavities for winter use.

REFERENCES: Beal 1911, Conner and Adkisson 1977, DeGraff et al. 1980, Forbush and May 1955, Johnsgard 1979, MacRoberts and MacRoberts 1976, Reller 1972, Tate and Tate 1982.

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