In late July of last year, my friend Larry Slomski invited me to a marsh in Northwestern Pennsylvania to photograph nesting Red-headed Woodpeckers. I was able to make a few photos of the adults that day but we were too late to see them feeding their young; they had already fledged and there was no sign of a second brood. In early June of this year, we decided to meet in the same spot to try to catch a glimpse of the chicks.
There were active nests all around the swamp, indicated by several Red-headed Woodpeckers flying around collecting insects. They are very territorial birds so each pair stayed in their own territory.
The most usual place to see a Red-headed Woodpecker perched is at the tip of a dead tree limb.
The male has the chore of locating the nest site. After the male selects a site for a nest hole, the female will tap on it to signal her acceptance and he will begin excavation. They prefer to nest in dead trees or dead parts of living trees at least 65 feet above the ground. They like to choose trees that have a smooth, bark-less trunk. That deters snakes from crawling up its sides.
Their typical clutch size is 3–10 eggs and they’ll produce about 1-2 broods a year. Incubation is done by both sexes. Incidentally, once a pair have mated, they may stay together for several years.
That morning, we witnessed several feedings of what appeared to be a lone chick.
During feeding times, I would say the adult bring food to the nest about every 5 – 10 minutes. As the chicks grow, less trips to the nest is required.
The chicks are fed by both parents, and leave the nest at about 27-31 days. As I said earlier, they produce 1 - 2 broods a year so pairs may be starting on a 2nd nesting attempt while still feeding the fledglings from the first. The 2nd brood may be raised in the same nest but more often in a new cavity.
Red-headed Woodpeckers are one of the most skillful fly catchers among the North American woodpeckers. They typically catch aerial insects by spotting them from a perch and fly out to grab them.
Their diet consist of insects, fruits, and seeds. The meal of choice on this day was mainly seeds with an occasional insect.
This small insect isn't worth a trip to the nest. It continued to look for more.
It definitely wasn’t quiet in the marsh that morning. While the Gray Squirrels moved about quietly, we were loudly serenaded by a male Hooded Warbler. We got a glimpse of him and his mate as they flew low and past our heads a couple times. Nearby nesting Bald Eagles were plentiful too and we also saw a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers in the swamp that day. Both male and female Pileated Woodpeckers came in close at one time or another but remained high in the trees. I didn’t take any photos. Another bird we saw flying around was a Northern Flicker. There was a pattern to its flights, ending in the same tree each time. Earlier in the year Larry saw the same flickers tapping a dead tree and he suspected they were building a nest.
Following up on that notion, we quietly walked to a good vantage point and waited. Soon a female adult Northern Flicker brought food for her chicks. There were three chicks in the nesting cavity but we only saw two most of the time.
The close-by, successful, flicker nest was a surprise because Red-headed Woodpeckers are fierce defenders of their territory. They may remove the eggs of other species from nests and ultimately destroy their nests.
Feeding began to become more infrequent as the sun, and heat, began to raise too high. Larry and I decided to pack it up and call it a day.
Thanks for looking,