Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker by Nancy Camel
© Nancy Camel
Melanerpes erythrocephalus
This species was once one of our commonest and best-known birds throughout the state, but it is now rapidly diminishing in numbers. The causes of its decline are varied, but certainly the main factor operating against it is the competition afforded by the European Starling. Since the introduction of the starlings in the vicinity of New York City in the last part of the nineteenth century, the species has spread south to Florida and Mexico and west to California. In a considerable part of this area it has become established as a common breeder. Since the starlings generally nest in tree cavities, their habits has brought them into conflict with the Red-headed Woodpecker. After a Red-head laboriously drills and excavates a nest hole, a starling usurps it through a technique of persistent, aggressive heckling. The Red-head abandons one cavity after another and finally fails to complete its own nesting routine and to rear its own young. At Baton Rouge, in the last 40 years, I have witnessed the arrival and steady increase of the European Starling and the corresponding diminution in numbers of the Red-head. Nest holes in certain dead snags that once produced annually a brood of four to seven Read-heads are now devoid of these beautiful birds and instead are producing brood after brood of unwelcome starlings.
The Red-head can hardly be confused with any other bird; its whole head is bright red down to the shoulders. The back, tail, and flight feathers are bluish black, while the remainder of its body appears immaculate white in the field. In the juvenal plumage the large areas of black and white are present, but the bird's head is dingy brown. The young bird of the year retains this plumage only until fall, when it undergoes a long postjuvenal molt. After this molt it cannot be distinguished from the adult. The call of the Red-head is a loud queech, as well as a variety of other notes, including a rolling sound that many kinds of woodpeckers make.
--George H. Lowery, Jr., 1974, Louisiana Birds

Birds of Louisianadjl
LOS Homepage