Red-headed Woodpecker
(Melanerpes erythrocephalus)


Picture of bird
© Kenneth Cole Schneider - License
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

In Canada, the Red-headed Woodpecker is restricted to southern regions of Manitoba and Ontario, with small numbers in Saskatchewan and Quebec. The population has shown a large decrease relative to about 1970, as indicated by the Breeding Bird Survey. With continuing loss of large dead trees for nesting and roosting, and nut-bearing trees for foraging, threats to the population remain considerable. The species was originally assessed by Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada as Special Concern in 1996 due to on-going threats and long-term population decline. It was re-assessed in 2007 as Threatened (COSEWIC 2007a), and then re-assessed again in 2018 as Endangered (COSEWIC 2018b). The species was listed as Threatened on Schedule 1 under the Species at Risk Act in 2009. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
COSEWIC (Canada)Threatened2018 
SARA (Canada)Threatened2009 
IUCN (Global)Least concern2018 
Partners in Flight (North America)Watch list - yellow D2017 
Wild Species (Canada)Vulnerable2015 
State of North America’s BirdsWatch list2017 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaLarge DecreaseMediumBelow Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada< 5,000 adults

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population
CanadaVery Low

General nesting period in Canada

Nesting period starts between mid-May and late May and ends in mid-August, depending on the region. Before or after this period, the probability of an active nest is lower.

Conservation and management

Historically, the decline of the Red-headed Woodpecker was probably related to the loss of large stands of mature beech and oak, the main source of food in the wintering areas of its range (Frei et al. 2017). More recently, loss of large nesting and roosting trees to disease and the removal of dead trees (snags) and the loss of senescent elm stems has likely contributed to the decline (COSEWIC 2007a). Human related changes to Red-headed Woodpecker habitat may impact reproductive success; the species was found to be maladaptive to habitat change which resulted in higher nest failure (Frei et al. 2013). Expansion of beech bark disease in Ontario may further threaten the species' stability in Canada by removing an important foraging source (COSEWIC 2007a), although the effect of the introduced, invasive Emerald Ash Borer beetle on ash trees might offer new foraging and cavity opportunities. Some suggestions for potential conservation actions include protection of mature bottomland in the wintering areas and preservation of large nesting and roosting trees in the breeding areas (COSEWIC 2007a). For information on the legal status of this species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and to view available recovery documents, see the SARA Registry.


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Boreal Hardwood TransitionBoreal Hardwood Transition, sub-region and priority type: Ontario and Manitoba -- Conservation
Boreal Taiga PlainsBoreal Taiga Plains, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Other
Lower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence PlainLower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Plain, sub-region and priority type: Ontario -- Conservation
Lower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence PlainLower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Plain, sub-region and priority type: Quebec -- Conservation
Prairie PotholesPrairie Potholes, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Conservation