email a friend
printable version
Red-headed Woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This species has shown long-term declines which have continued at a moderately rapid rate owing to loss and degradation of its habitat in recent decades. Consequently it is considered Near Threatened.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Distribution and population
Melanerpes erythrocephalus is found in central and eastern USA, from Montana to the Atlantic coast and south to the Gulf of Mexico, and in extreme southern Canada (del Hoyo et al. 2002). The northern populations are migratory (Smith et al. 2000, del Hoyo et al. 2002), and historically its movements were influenced by nut crops from the now non-existent northern beech (Fagus) forests (Smith et al. 2000). It has experienced a steady decline of 2.5% annually since 1966 (J. Wells and K. Rosenberg in litt. 2003), with the most severe declines in Florida and the Great Lakes Plain (del Hoyo et al. 2002).

Population justification
Rich et al. (2004).

Trend justification
This species has undergone a large and statistically significant decrease over the last 40 years in North America (-65.5% decline over 40 years, equating to a -23.3% decline per decade; data from Breeding Bird Survey and/or Christmas Bird Count: Butcher and Niven 2007).

It inhabits mature lowland forest with dead trees for nesting, open areas for fly-catching and a relatively open understorey. It is strongly aggressive, particularly when defending food storage sites, and is interspecifically territorial against the Red-bellied Woodpecker M. carolinus (Reller 1972). It is omnivorous, eating a high proportion of animal matter in spring, but seeds predominate in winter. It breeds from April to September.

Habitat degradation, as a result of the removal of dead trees and branches in urban areas (Pulich 1988), and loss of nesting habitat to firewood cutting, clear cutting, agricultural development and river channelling in rural areas (Ehrlich et al. 1992, Melcher 1998), appears to be responsible. Collisions with moving vehicles may be a contributing factor, but persecution as a pest by farmers and utility companies is currently minimal (Smith et al. 2000, del Hoyo et al. 2002).

Conservation Actions Underway
It occurs in a number of protected areas, but no species-specific actions are known. Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue to monitor population trends. Monitor rates of habitat loss and degradation. Use fire for its positive effects - prescribed burning and understorey thinning increased numbers in Arkansas by creating more open forest stands, improving foraging opportunities; however, whilst burning may create nest-snags, it also destroys existing nest-snags. Creation or maintenance of snags for nesting and roosting is of prime importance. Snags should be retained, in groups if possible. Dead branches should be retained on big trees in non-urban areas and only selectively pruned where hazardous in urban areas. Selective thinning of live trees appears to have a positive effect (e.g. removal of 50% of oak trees for prairie restoration on a reserve in Ohio immediately attracted nesting birds).

Related state of the world's birds case studies

del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. 2002. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 7: Jacamars to Woodpeckers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Ehrlich, P. R.; Dobkin, D. S.; Wheye, D. 1992. Birds in jeopardy: the imperiled and extinct birds of the United States and Canada including Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California.

Melcher, B. 1998. Red-headed Woodpecker. In: Kingery, H.E. (ed.), Colorado breeding bird atlas, pp. 250-251. Colorado Bird Atlas Paratnership and Colorado Div. Wildl., Denver.

Pulich, W. M. 1988. The birds of North Central Texas. A & M Press, College Station, Texas.

Reller, A. W. 1972. Aspects of behavioural ecology of Red-headed and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. American Midland Naturalist 88: 270-290.

Rich, T.D.; Beardmore, C.J.; Berlanga, H.; Blancher, P.J.; Bradstreet, M.S.W.; Butcher, G.S.; Demarest, D.W.; Dunn, E.H.; Hunter, W.C.; Inigo-Elias, E.E.; Martell, A.M.; Panjabi, A.O.; Pashley, D.N.; Rosenberg, K.V.; Rustay, C.M.; Wendt, J.S.; Will, T.C.

Smith, K. G.; Withgott, J. H.; Rodewald, P. G. 2000. Red-headed Woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus. In: Poole, A.; Gill, F. (ed.), The birds of North America No. 518, pp. 1-28. The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia and the American Ornithologists' Union, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Harding, M., Sharpe, C J

Butcher, G., Rosenberg, K., Wells, J.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Melanerpes erythrocephalus. Downloaded from on 27/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 27/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Picidae (Woodpeckers)
Species name author (Linnaeus, 1758)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 5,460,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species