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10 Woodpeckers With Red Heads in North America

Woodpeckers with red heads are a captivating group of birds that consist of various different species. Despite having several similarities, woodpeckers with red heads do have their own distinct characteristics, habitats, and behaviors that vary from one species to the next. From the well-known yet elusive Red-Headed Woodpecker to the lesser-known and even more elusive Lewis’s Woodpecker, their diversity showcases the awes of nature.

While many woodpecker species feature a little red, we’re going to focus on species with more than just a small patch of red on the head. Let’s take a look at 10 different woodpeckers with red heads.

1. Red-Headed Woodpecker

Red-headed woodpecker feeding
Red-headed woodpecker feeding | image by AUTHOR via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed woodpeckers prefer open woodlands, orchards, and areas with dead trees, which they will use for nesting. They are found throughout eastern and central North America, although their population has declined in some regions due to habitat loss.

The adults of this species have a fully red head that contrasts sharply with their black and white body. They are acrobatic hunters known for catching insects in mid-air. An interesting fact about these stunning birds is that they are only one of four North American woodpeckers that store food, and it is the only one that does so by covering the food with bark or wood. 

2. Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied woodpecker
Red-Bellied woodpecker eating from a platform feeder (Image: Sheila Brown | needpix.com)

Scientific Name: Melanerpes carolinus

The red-bellied woodpecker thrives in woodlands with a mixture of tree species. They prefer woodlands that have trees with dead limbs, which they use for nesting. They live in the eastern parts of the United States, from the Great Plains to the Atlantic Coast.

Red-Bellied woodpeckers feast on various insects, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Despite its name, the red coloring on its belly is often faint and not very noticeable. It does, however, have a vibrant red stripe along the back of the head. For males this extends all the way down to the beak, and in females it  stops at the forhead. 

The red-bellied woodpecker is often confused with the red-headed woodpecker. One way to tell them apart is that the red-bellied woodpecker features red on the top and back of its head, with a white face, chin, and cheeks. The red-headed woodpecker, however, has an entirely red head, chin, and face. 

3. Lewis’s Woodpecker

Lewis's woodpecker perched on dead branch
Lewis’s Woodpecker | image by Channel City Camera Club via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Melanerpes lewis

The red on the Lewis’s Woodpecker isn’t as striking as the others on our list, but it makes up for its lack of a vibrant red cap with an unusual coloring not typically seen on woodpeckers. This bulky bird boasts a face and head that is red in color, but oftentimes appears more dark and less vibrant than other woodpecker species. Additionally, Lewis’s Woodpecker features pink, silver, and glossy green plumage, which is not often seen in woodpeckers. 

Another aspect that makes this bird a unique woodpecker is that it’ll catch insects in mid-flight, which is a behavior more often seen in flycatchers. The Lewis’s Woodpecker prefers open woodlands and is often seen foraging for food in open spaces. They are found in the western United States and parts of southern British Columbia. 

4. Red-Crowned Woodpecker

Red-crowned woodpecker perching
Red-crowned woodpecker perching | image by Charles J. Sharp via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Scientific Name: Melanerpes rubricapillus

The Red-Crowned Woodpecker inhabits tropical forests, woodlands, and gardens. They often favor wooded areas with mature trees, which they will use for nesting purposes. These woodpeckers are found in Central America, and occasionally in parts of Mexico.

They have a red nape and red belly that stands out against their black and white plumage. The Red-Crowned Woodpecker is often seen in pairs or small family groups, and they make their nests by excavating holes in trees, wood poles, and even cacti

5. Red-Naped Sapsucker

Red-naped sapsucker on tree trunk
Red-naped sapsucker on tree trunk | image by GlacierNPS via Flickr

Scientific Name: Sphyrapicus nuchalis

While their name may not scream woodpecker, I can assure you that the Red-Naped Sapsucker is a member of the woodpecker family. However, they have more of a sweet tooth then your traditional woodpecker.

As its name would suggest, the Red-Naped Sapsucker features a red crown and a red patch at the nape of the neck. Males have a fully red throat while females have a white throat with a small red stripe along the bottom. They favor trees in coniferous forests, mixed woodlands, and parks that produce sap. These sapsuckers winter in the southwest and Mexico, then breed in Utah, Idaho, Nevada and other areas of the mid-west up into Canada.

6. Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker with a scruffy head
Pileated woodpecker with a scruffy head

Scientific Name: Dryocopus pileatus

Pileated Woodpeckers are large birds that sport a red crest on the top of their heads, white stripes on their face, and black body. The female of the species looks very similar to the males. However, you can tell the difference between the two thanks to the red stripe on the cheek that the males have, sometimes called their “mustache”.

These woodpeckers are found in mature forests that are filled with downed logs and dead trees. Pileated woodpeckers create rectangular holes in trees in order to find ants, and these holes can be so deep that they can break a small tree in half.

7. Ladder-Backed Woodpecker

Ladder backed woodpecker male clinging to wood fence post
Ladder-backed Woodpecker | image by Bettina Arrigoni via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Dryobates scalaris

The Ladder-Backed Woodpecker is a small bird that features a black and white ladder of stripes up their back. Only the males of the species have a red crown that extends from the back of their heads to their eyes. The females have no red markings at all. This bird was once known as the “Cactus Woodpecker”, and it calls thorn forests and deserts throughout the southwestern United States its home. 

8. Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

Image: wikicommons

Scientific Name: Campephilus principalis

Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are very large in size, and have a black body with white lines running down its back and large white panels on its wings. The males have a red crest, while the females have black crests. These woodpeckers were known for spending their time high up in trees in soggy bottomland hardwood forest of the southeastern U.S. Unfortunately due to habitat loss and overhunting, they are critically endangered and likely extinct. There has not been a universally accepted, verifiable sighting since the early 1940’s.

9. Nuttall’s Woodpecker

male nuttalls woodpecker
Nuttall’s Woodpecker (male) | image by Sam May via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Dryobates nuttallii

Nuttall’s woodpecker resembels many other species with black and white barred wings, a black and white striped face and black spotting on its sides. Males have a large red stripe that runs from the crown of the head to the nape of the neck. Females lack any red coloring. These birds are typically found in oak woodlands, riparian areas, and mixed woodlands along the western coast of California and Oregon.

Nuttall’s woodpeckers primarily feed on insects, including ants, beetles, and their larvae, which they extract from tree bark using their strong bills. They also consume fruits and nuts, adding variety to their diet. Even though they are mainly found in oak forests, they don’t typically eat acorns.

10. Red-breasted Sapsucker

red breasted sapsucker
Red-breasted Sapsucker | image by Jake Bonello – USFWS via Flickr

Scientific name: Sphyrapicus ruber

The red-breasted sapsucker is a medium-sized woodpecker with a striking appearance. It has a black and white striped pattern on its back and wings, with a red throat, red patch on its breast, and fully red head. These birds are typically found in coniferous and mixed woodlands across western North America, including parts of the United States and Canada.

Red-breasted sapsuckers primarily feed on sap, drilling small holes in trees and returning to feed on the sweet liquid and the insects it attracts. They also consume fruits and insects. 

One interesting fact about red-breasted sapsuckers is that they are known to return to the same trees year after year to feed and breed, creating distinct patterns of sap wells on the trees they frequent. 

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