Rare Woodpecker Visits Lloyd Center Feeders

juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker

This past week, during a winter thus far without any apparent finch irruptions but the routine visitors coming and going, one extremely rare avian visitor stopped by for a bite.

On Tuesday January 11, it was confirmed that a juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) had been feeding on our suet basket. Not to be mistaken for the Red-bellied Woodpecker which has a red crest, this species is renowned as the only woodpecker in the east with an entirely red head. This juvenile bird (see picture) is identified by a dark brown head with perhaps some reddish underlying tinge, and white outer wing and rump. In flight, the white is obvious and the dark head is always visible.

Red-headed Woodpeckers thrive best in a mixture of forests and open areas, and are particularly fond of oak-hickory forest which is the dominant forest type on the Lloyd Center property. Although small numbers of pairs have nested in southeast New England in recent years as the bird slowly expands its range eastward, we are east and north of the bulk of its range, such that only small numbers are seen. Habitat loss, including forests, has impacted the species which is said to be in overall decline. The species is partially migratory, with this bird likely being pushed down during a recent cold front. It was first confirmed the same day northern flickers first appeared, and both red-winged blackbirds and brown-headed cowbirds passed through. The woodpecker is highly omnivorous and consumes and stores acorns, for which a huge crop was produced this fall in what is referred to as a “mast year”. The abundance of acorns and an abundance of “snags” (standing dead trees) that provide good woodpecker habitat in general, might have enticed the bird to stick around.

Juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker; photo-Henry Zimberlain

Within hours of the bird’s report on “ebird”, the birding community responded with a fairly steady flow of visitors looking for it. This not only allowed some people to see a new bird on their list, but they did so on the Lloyd Center property. The first ever record of the species at the Lloyd Center attests to the avian diversity that exists here, even if sightings like this don’t happen too often.

In addition to feeding at the suet basket, the bird has been seen storing acorns in dead branches of trees. Is this an indicator that the bird will stick around? Or will this weekend’s weather take the bird further south on a farewell flight? We hope the bird sticks around for awhile (so some missing it get another try), but either way are thankful the rarity stopped at our property!