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Red-headed Woodpecker

How a beaver leads to a bird 

Beaver ponds add diversity to a woods. The flooded trees give way to meadows. Red-headed woodpeckers come to make nesting holes in the timber standing in water. Plant-based food — fruit, berries and nuts — make up two-thirds of these birds’ diet. But they also are active hunters and strong fliers. They can catch dragonflies in the air and chase down grasshoppers. Unusually, these woodpeckers will store live food like grasshoppers to eat later. They’ve even been seen eating other birds, bird eggs, mice, snakes and other vertebrates. 

Red-headed woodpeckers — unlike red-bellied woodpeckers — are red over their entire head. They have a large white patch on their wings. Their call is distinctive, but they are frequently quiet and play hide and seek with you and each other. They will sneak around to the back of limbs and wait for a human to leave the area.    

Since 1970, the population of these birds has dropped by 70 percent. Loss of habitat is the major cause of the decline. 

As well as beaver ponds, the birds live along rivers, swamps and at the edges of lakes. You can see them along the open swamp pathway at Flag Ponds Nature Park in Calvert County, where nesting holes are visible, at Otter Point in Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary and at the first bird blind in Blackwater National Wildlife Sanctuary. The birds have seemed to profit from the rising water levels in Blackwater. The dying trees have increased their habitat. 

Locally, the population does not migrate but will move fairly long distances to find food. They very occasionally will visit feeders, particularly suet feeders in the winter.