The red-headed woodpecker is one of the most omnivorous woodpeckers in North America, taking a wide variety of plant and animal food (2). It generally eats a higher proportion of animal matter in the spring, while a largely herbivorous diet, mostly comprising nuts, is more common during winter (2) (4) (7).
The open habitats preferred by the red-headed woodpecker provide it with ample space for flycatching (6) (7), and this species is one of the most accomplished flycatchers in the Picidae family, darting out from a perch to capture any flying insects in its path (2) (4). It also drills into dead wood in search of prey, plucks prey items from vegetation, or takes food from the ground. The diet of the red-headed woodpecker includes a wide range of insects and other invertebrates, as well as various fruits, berries, seeds and nuts. It may also take bird eggs, nestlings and mice (2) (4) (5) (8).
The red-headed woodpecker is unusual in being one of only four woodpecker species that commonly stores or ‘caches’ food, often in crevices, tree cavities, or under bark (2) (4) (8). This species is also the only woodpecker known to cover its stored food with bark or wood (2) (4).
A highly territorial species, the red-headed woodpecker can be aggressive in defending its nesting area and food storage sites. It also shows territorial behaviour against other species, such as the red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) (2) (7).
The nest of the red-headed woodpecker is usually built in a dead tree, branch, stump, or even in a telephone pole or fence post, between 1.5 and 24 metres above the ground. The hole may be excavated by the woodpecker or may be an existing cavity, and is usually about 20 to 60 centimetres deep (2) (4) (5) (8). A breeding pair of red-headed woodpeckers may use the same cavity over a number of years (2) (4) (8).
The red-headed woodpecker is monogamous, with breeding pairs often staying together for several years (2). This species breeds between April and August, although most egg-laying occurs from May to June (2) (5). The female red-headed woodpecker lays 4 to 7 eggs, which are incubated by both the male and female for 12 to 14 days (2) (4) (8). Both adults care for the young, which usually fledge after about 24 to 27 days (2) (8). Breeding pairs in the south of the range may raise two broods a year (2) (4) (8).
The red-headed woodpecker can breed from a year old (2), and has been recorded living up to at least ten years of age (5).