Species At Risk

Red-headed Woodpecker

(Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

Special Concern

Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker occurrences map


The Red-headed Woodpecker is a medium-sized bird – about 20 centimetres long – easily recognized for its vivid red head, neck and breast. The rest of the bird is black and white, mostly white underneath and black on top.

This woodpecker’s strong bill helps it dig holes in wood to find insects, its food source in the summer. In the winter, it eats nuts.

Adults often return to the same nesting site year after year. Between May and June, females lay from three to seven eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs and then tend to the young.

Action we are taking:


The Red-headed Woodpecker is found across southern Ontario, where it is widespread but rare. Outside Ontario, it lives in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec, and is relatively common in the United States.


The Red-headed Woodpecker lives in open woodland and woodland edges, and is often found in parks, golf courses and cemeteries. These areas typically have many dead trees, which the bird uses for nesting and perching.

This woodpecker regularly winters in the United States, moving to locations where it can find sufficient acorns and beechnuts to eat. A few of these birds will stay the winter in woodlands in southern Ontario if there are adequate supplies of nuts.


Red-headed Woodpecker populations have declined by more than 60 per cent in Ontario in the last 20 years because of habitat loss due to forestry and agricultural. The removal of dead trees in which they nest is also believed to be a threat to these birds.


The Red-headed Woodpecker is listed as a species of Special Concern under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. Although species of Special Concern do not receive legal protection under this act, this species is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act.

What You Can Do to Help the Red-headed Woodpecker

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Red-headed Woodpecker. You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful. nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. You may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Bird Studies Canada is working to advance the understanding, appreciation and conservation of wild birds and their habitat in Ontario and elsewhere. For more information on how you can help, visit: www.bsc-eoc.org.
  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
  • The Carolinian forests of southern Ontario support an amazing diversity of plants and wildlife, including many species at risk. Carolinian Canada is working to help recover species at risk and their habitats. For more information, visit: www.carolinian.org/SpeciesHabitats.htm.

Did you know?

In addition to a bill, woodpeckers have special anatomical features to help them dig holes in wood and find insects. A covering of feathers over the nostrils keeps out pieces of wood and wood powder. A long, barbed tongue searches crevices and cracks for food. And the bird’s salivary glands produce a glue-like substance that coats the tongue and, along with the barbs, helps it capture insects.

Did you know?

Red-headed Woodpeckers store food, hiding insects and seeds in cracks in wood, under bark, in fence posts, and under roof shingles.

Did you know?

In addition to attacking other birds to keep them out of its territory, the Red-headed Woodpecker is known to remove the eggs of other species from nests and nest boxes, destroy nests, and even to enter duck nesting boxes and puncture the duck eggs.

Did you know?

Since they nest in holes in dead trees or dead branches, the Red-headed Woodpecker benefited from the chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.