An Elusive Beauty – The Red-Headed Woodpecker

by | May 10, 2010

One of the most difficult birds for me to find in Florida has been the
red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus). It is a very skittish bird – even for a woodpecker, and tends to avoid people if encountered. I’ve seen them only a couple of times in the Osceola National Forest north of Gainesville and in remote areas near the Georgia border north of Tallahassee, and only from a distance of at least five hundred feet. They are rather uncommon to rare, and often confused with the very common red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) – which does have a bit of red on the crown of the head, but this coloring does not encompass the entire head. There is a particular lustrous red metallic sheen to the feathers that makes identification easy, even at a great distance. The other characteristic is the black back and wings with a broad white patch on the lower part of the wings. The official status of the red-headed woodpecker is “near threatened” and their population is in a decline.
Red-Headed Woodpecker

Last week, I was on a shore fishing outing with some friends in Wakulla County – a day off from photography – when movement in the corner of my eye on the beach drew my attention from the waves to a solitary dead pine tree, killed by saltwater on the eroding beach. Near the top of the tree was a pair of red-headed woodpeckers, not twenty feet away from me. Typical! The one time I deliberately don’t have a camera with me. Then I got to thinking and I was busy drowning my apparently unscrumptious bait….. this pair is probably nesting nearby, and will most likely be here if I return.
Red-Headed Woodpecker

I returned a few days later and on approaching the same dead pine – there was one of the woodpeckers, busy drilling out a hole. I was able to start doing my “shoot & scoot” method of getting close enough to get my shot, and it was fantastic!
Red-Headed Woodpecker

Although the second woodpecker was not to be seen, after about 20 minutes I had all the images I needed, and had the rest of the day to look for new subjects…. and the rest of the day was equally as good! Check back often as I’ll be post many more photos from this day’s trip, and lots more from various other locations around the State of Florida. Thanks for visiting!




Sharing and commenting via the social media links below will help me greatly, and is much appreciated.

Thank you in advance!




  1. Anonymous

    I live in NE Leon County and haven't seen one of these in quite some time. One type of pecker I do see is the Pileated which is a treat as well. Mark

  2. SophieMae

    Beautiful!!! I've always been quite partial to redheads, and always excited to see one! Next time you're in Wakulla, you might try scanning the area (in Crawfordville) across from Sonic. We see redheads relatively often driving behind the parks. Then take Cedar Ave to the extension office. If your timing is good, you might spot one back there.

    Have you tried Tall Timbers?

  3. Sharon

    What a neat treat. Your scoot and shoot method sure does get you some great shots. I have never had the privilege of seeing one of these. You are so good to share these exceptional phots. Thank you.

  4. Bryan

    Beautiful pic! You probably won't believe this but I know I saw an Ivory Billed Woodpecker on Egmont Key off Fort DeSoto Park. This was a couple of years ago. I was with a group of photographers taking pics on the Island when a huge woodpecker flew by.It had to have a wingspan or 2 to 3 feet.I did'nt even have a chance to aim my camera.I want to go back there sometime,because I'm sure it's still there.

  5. Rich Leighton

    Thanks everyone! Bryan – are you sure it wasn't the pileated woodpecker? They look very similar to the ivory-billed. Did you report it to FWC?

  6. MikeyBoy50

    Beautiful bird Rich,
    Beautiful captures!
    Dont have that on here.

  7. laura kinney

    i live in gainesville, FL., just north of the city…rural, pine forests. last week my husband and i saw a woodpecker we had never seen before…i started looking for it online…we tried to get pic’s, but they’re a little blurry as the woodpecker was a little camera shy! i found your site/blog…and it’s the red headed woodpecker!! white band across the wings and no red tuft on his head. we have MANY of the usual florida pileated woodpeckers here but this was the first time we’ve EVER seen this one!! and we’ve seen him many times since…on the same pine tree. hopefully we’ll get a good pic soon! LOVE your website…pictures are gorgeous!! i have become a fan at your FB page and will be looking forward to seeing more!! thanks!!

  8. laura kinney

    PS – so i sat…waited…and waited…FINALLY got a few pictures of this woodpecker this afternoon! they’re on my blog! in the 10 plus years we’ve been here in north central FL…this is the first time we’ve spotted this beautiful woodpecker!!

  9. Karin Bell

    Rich ,Oh,my,my! What a beautiful bird this Red-Headed Woodpecker.I am proud to say I have a pair of these beauties nesting in a large dead oak on the backside of my 75 acre farm in Ocala,Fl.(NW Marion County).With binoculars in hand,I sneak there and watch them several times a day.They are more spectacular each and every time I see them.

  10. Rich Boothby

    I have a resident red Headed Wooedpecker living in my sabal palm just outside my front door. In the early morning as the sun is rising his opeing faces east, he watches as I let the dog out, I say hello and he just watches then flys off into another larger tree to start his day returning as the sun sets.
    I have a nice photo of him dead on looking directly at the camera from15 feet away. It’s so cool to have him that closeby.

  11. Rich Boothby

    I would like to send you the photo and any additional photos I take, Is there an email address I don’t use any of the social websites.

  12. Lois

    Rich, I am an avid birdwatcher/LOVER! Especially the woodpeckers! I have had every variety on my property-EXCEPT this one! Thanks for posting these!

    • RichLeighton

      Thanks for visiting 🙂 I was really happy when I finally saw (and was able to photograph) these!


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