Meet the Redheads of the Bird World: Red-headed Woodpeckers

Learn more about the red-headed woodpecker including what they look like, what they eat, and how to attract them to your backyard.

What Do Red-Headed Woodpeckers Look Like?

Flashing rich crimson, jet black and ivory white—the same bold colors found on a classic deck of cards—the red-headed woodpecker contrasts with the muted colors of its habitat.

“The red-headed woodpecker has very distinctive, large color patches with no variegating, striation or striping,” says Emma Greig, project leader at Project FeederWatch. This beautiful bird has a red head, a snow white body and inky black wings with white patches. Both males and females sport the bold, bright colors, and juveniles appear subdued in brown, black and white.

Not sure if you’re looking at a red-headed woodpecker or not? Check out these photos of common North American woodpecker species.

Many woodpeckers have some red on their heads, including the common red-bellied woodpecker. But the red-headed is one of the few with a full head of scarlet. The red-bellied woodpecker has a red crown and nape.

What Do Red-Headed Woodpeckers Eat?

This brilliant bird is a rare sight at backyard feeders in the cooler months. It’s more common to see them foraging on the ground or on tree trunks. They eat insects, seeds, corn, nuts (acorns, beechnuts and pecans, especially), suet, and fruits such as apples, berries, cherries, pears, grapes, mulberries and even poison ivy fruits. Check out more backyard birds that eat berries.

Catching and Storing Food

Red-headed woodpeckers have the ability to catch insects while in flight. They can wedge live grasshoppers so tightly into crevices that the bugs are unable to break free. According to Cornell, this species is one of only four North American woodpeckers known to store food. Red-heads hide seeds, insects and other food in fence posts or under roof shingles. Learn about another woodpecker that caches food: the acorn woodpecker.

How to Attract Red-Headed Woodpeckers

Keep dead trees around for as long as it’s safe to do so to entice these beauties to your backyard. You can also draw them in with deciduous woodlands with an understory for nesting and foraging. Also see our list of the best foods for woodpeckers.

Migration Patterns

Red-headed woodpeckers are found year-round within much of their range. But the species makes small migratory movements to winter grounds in southeastern states. Here’s the top 5 birding hotspots for fall migration.

Conservation Concerns

According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, this species has experienced a cumulative decline of 70 percent between 1966 and 2014. Deforestation and habitat loss throughout its range are attributed to the decline of these birds.

Next, learn how to tell the difference between downy and hairy woodpeckers.