Plants and Animals

Melanerpes erythrocephalus Red-headed woodpecker

species photo
Aaron Kortenhoven

Key Characteristics

Red-headed woodpeckers are a medium-sized woodpecker at 24.1 cm (9.5 in) long. The adults have a conspicuously crimson red head, upper black back, and broad white wing patches. They are one of the more gregarious woodpeckers in Michigan and both their raucous behavior and flashy colors make them one of most easily recognized woodpeckers in Michigan. Juveniles are not as brightly colored but retain the distinctive white wing patches. The call is a far carrying and raising “queek” often accompanied by a raspy “churrrr”. Their drum is rapid and short.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: SC - Special Concern (rare or uncertain; not legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S3 - Vulnerable


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Allegan 2 2023
Barry 1 2010
Crawford 3 2023
Ionia 4 2021
Kalkaska 1 2021
Lake 1 2011
Livingston 1 2016
Manistee 2 2020
Mason 1 2020
Montcalm 1 2015
Muskegon 2 2018
Newaygo 2 2011
Oceana 1 2016
Otsego 2 2023
Van Buren 1 2021
Wexford 1 2020

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Red-headed woodpeckers are residents of open woodlands with widely spaced mature trees. This species typically avoids closed-canopy forest. An original inhabitant of oak and oak-pine savanna systems, red-headed woodpeckers will readily utilize golf courses, country parks, recently burned woodlands, open floodplain forest, and even rural yards with suitable nesting trees. They show a preference for nesting in barkless snags.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Use prescribed fire to maintain open canopy conditions in occupied habitat. Maintain or create barrens habitat in areas where such habitat occurred historically. Actively remove woody encroachment in barrens. Retain large diameter snags in logged areas.

Active Period

Breeding from fourth week of May to first week of July

Survey Methods

Meander search or point count

Survey Period: From fourth week of May to second week of July

Time of Day: Morning (after sunrise)


Survey References

  • Bibby, C.J., N.D. Burgess, and D.A. Hill. 1992. Bird Census Techniques. Academic Press, New York.

Technical References

  • Bent, A.C. 1939. Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 174. Life Histories of North American Woodpeckers. Order Piciformes. United States Government Printing Office Washington.
  • Brewer, R., G. A. McPeek, and R. J. Adams Jr., eds. 1991. The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Michigan. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing. 650pp.