Open woodland, especially with beech or oak, and open situations with scattered trees, e.g. parks, cultivated areas, gardens, groves, farm country, orchards, and shade trees in towns. Generally avoids unbroken forest, favoring open country or at least clearings in the woods. Also found in pine-savannah, pine-oak barrens, forested wetlands or flooded timber, and timber stands treated with herbicides or burns.
This species is of high conservation concern, primarily because of precipitous population declines nearly throughout its range. Overall, a 50 % loss has been noted rangewide since 1966. Reasons for this decline are not clear, and understanding this species' precise habitat relationships and sensitivity to silvicultural and other land-use practices will be important for conserving future populations.
Female: Same as adult male.
Juvenile: Mottled brown head and neck; white breast, belly, and rump variably marked with brown streaking; dark brown back and upperwings; white secondaries are broken by brown lateral bars; tail is dark brown.
Drum: Advertises and defends territory by drumming on tree-trunk or snag; drum is fairly short, weak, and slow compared with other woodpeckers.
Calls: A loud churr-churr and yarrow-yarrow yarrow. Contact call a variable, wheezy queeah or queerp; weaker and less vibrant than Red-bellied Woodpecker. In flight a low, harsh chug like Red-bellied Woodpecker. Close contact call is a gentle, dry rattle: krrrrr.
An opportunistic forager, often seen on tree trunks and major limbs, but less likely to drill for food than other woodpeckers. Flies out from a perch to catch insects in the air or on ground; also gleans insects from bark and foliage. Gathers acorns, beechnuts, and other nuts in fall, storing them in holes and crevices, then feeding on them during winter.
A wide variety of food items has been documented, including wood-boring and flying insects, fruit, corn, eggs and nestlings of small birds (e.g. Purple Martins and bluebirds), small vertebrates (e.g. mice), seeds; may be attracted to a backyard with suet, sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and bread.
Behavior and displays
Nest site: The nest cavity is usually in a bare dead tree or limb. The male's winter roosting cavity may be used, or a new cavity may be excavated; both adults excavate (mostly the male), the female usually inspects the nest cavity.
Height: Ranges from near ground level to over 100 feet (30 meters).
Nest: No nest construction other than wood chips left in the bottom of the cavity.
Eggs: 3-8, usually 4-5, white eggs are laid one per day.
Incubation period: Incubation by both sexes, with male incubating at night, lasts about 14 days.
Nestling period: Both parents feed the young; nestlings leave the nest 27-31 days after hatching.
Fledgling period: Both parents feed recent fledglings; they follow the parents until chased away about 25 days later. Pairs may start on a second nesting attempt while still feeding fledglings from the first. The fledglings may be driven away if the adults begin to raise a second brood.
Broods: 1 or 2 broods per year, commonly two broods in the southern portions of the breeding range.
Cowbird Parasitism: Sometimes parasitized by the Brown-headed Cowbird, but, as the Red-headed Woodpecker is a lousy foster parent, the parasite is almost always unsuccessful.