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Red-Headed Woodpecker



Some people think blondes have more fun, but I turn way more heads. Try to follow my radiant red head as I soar through the sky, catching insects mid-flight. I am both beauty and brains, storing food in tree crevices for later. I build my nests in oak woodlands and savannas, and I love calling the Chicago Wilderness Region my home as much as you, but the diminishing number of oak trees across the region makes it harder to live here.

Let’s work together to restore my habitat.

The red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes eryhrocephalus) sports a distinguished red head, complimented with a black body and white wing patches. Its diet includes seeds, nuts, fruit, bird eggs, nestlings, other adult birds, and mice. It stores food in the winter beneath the protection of bark or wood.

This vibrantly patterned bird begins nest-building as early as February and egg-laying as early as mid-April. Females can lay a second clutch of eggs in a year if the first fails. Despite this determination, the species has declined recently at a rate of 5% annually, mostly due to habitat degradation and loss of food sources.



  • Due to its bold pattern, one of the red-headed woodpecker nicknames is the “flying checkerboard”.

  • To defend its territory, the red-headed woodpecker may puncture or remove other birds' eggs from nests or destroy the nest entirely.

  • The red-headed woodpecker is used as a symbol of war by Cherokee Indians.



Volunteer at your local natural areas to help restore oak habitats.

Red-headed woodpeckers need oak ecosystems to thrive. Oak ecosystems are declining and, as a result, so are the populations of the red-headed woodpecker. Volunteering for organizations dedicated to oak restoration will help rebuild the oak population and save the red-headed woodpecker. Learn more about the importance of oak ecosystems to the Chicago Wilderness Region.



Chicago Wilderness works with our lead partner, The Nature Conservancy, to drive red-headed woodpecker conservation efforts. They, in turn, coordinate with numerous other organizations across the region. The red-headed woodpecker conservation effort is part of the Chicago Wilderness Priority Species Focus Area.


Sources: Cornell Lab of OrnithologyAudubon SocietyNature Conservancy