Page 131 - A Field Guide to Fairfax County's Plants and Wildlife
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-headed Woodpecker

(Melanerpes erythrocephalus)


Songbirds about the size of a robin (average
23.5 centimeters in length) with a red head
and black-and-white body and wings. Sexes
are similar. Red-headed Woodpeckers
make a variety of chirps, cackles and other
loud calls, but their most common call is a trilling tchurrr…tchurr…tchurr.
Woodpeckers also rapidly drum on tree trunks, wooden buildings and even
aluminum rain gutters! Mated pairs nest in tree cavities they find or dig out
themselves. The female lays four to eight eggs on a pile of wood chips. Both
males and females incubate the eggs, raise the young and defend their
breeding territory.

Distribution and Habitat All woodpeckers have exceptionally
long tongues which they use to pry
These woodpeckers are common, out insects. Sometimes the tongue is
year-round residents of Virginia longer than the bird! Like the string
except for the far southwestern of a yo-yo, the tongue wraps around
corner of the Appalachian Plateau the skull when not in use and is
province, where they are found extended when needed.
mainly in spring and summer. They
live in streamside and upland
forests, wooded swamps, orchards,
parks and open areas.

Role in Food Web

The most omnivorous woodpecker, they feed
on flying insects, nuts and seeds, sap, fruits and
berries, other birds’ eggs and chicks, and even
mice. They sometimes hide food in tree cavities or
in cracks in tree bark. Adults are preyed upon by
birds of prey, foxes and cats. Eggs and chicks are
taken by snakes, Raccoons and Gray Squirrels.

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