Red-headed Woodpecker

One morning in late October I heard a loose, bubbly kind of rattle we don’t usually hear around our yard. The bird fell quiet or drifted away, but I’ve heard the same calls several more times since then. I felt pretty sure it was a Red-headed Woodpecker, and Merlin agreed. So I’ve been hoping to find it. 

Late this morning I was checking out trees around the back yard when I heard the rattle again, and as I stood at the end of our driveway a fine young Red-headed Woodpecker flew to the trunk of an oak not far at all from where I stood. There it was! A juvenile, with a full brown head, and plumage that was maybe more brown than black on its back and wings, and big white panels in the wings. It didn’t stay long on this trunk, flew to another tree and then back toward me again, and then flew further away and out of sight. 

Red-headed Woodpeckers are not common in our neighborhood, but over the past twenty-three years here in Summit Grove, I have found solitary Red-headed Woodpeckers that stayed here for the winter season several times – though not every year. Always they have been juveniles, and when the spring arrives – they disappear. 

A mature Red-headed Woodpecker is brilliantly colorful – with full pure-red head, snow-white belly, and black wings with big white wing panels. They are very active and fascinating to watch. Although they used to be common across much of the eastern U.S., in the past several decades their populations have declined alarmingly, and they are now considered uncommon and local in most parts of their range. The main reason is thought to be loss of habitat and of the foods they need.

Because acorns are among a wide variety of foods Red-headed Woodpeckers favor, especially in the winter, I wonder if our very abundant acorns have attracted them this year. We’ve had so many acorns falling from the white oaks, especially, that for weeks we’ve had to be careful about walking under them, and now the ground in both front and back yards is thickly carpeted with acorns. 

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