Jun 30, 2021 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, April 2021

A Black-Headed Red-Headed Woodpecker?

What could explain a black-headed red-headed woodpecker? Photo by FishHawk / Wikimedia.

Dear Birdsquatch:

We have a bird we think is a red-headed woodpecker, but its head appears black. When I look at it through my binoculars, I can make out some very dark red on its head, along with the black, but the head appears to be shades of maroon to black. When I consult my bird books there is no mention of a possible dark head. We live in central Illinois and no other bird we can find looks even close to this. I wish I could send you a photo but the bird only appears sporadically. We also occasionally have redheaded woodpeckers with red heads. Except for the head color they look just the same. Can you help?

—Aneita G., Petersburg, Illinois

Dear Aneita,

I can help. "Red-headed woodpecker" is a helpfully descriptive name for that species, except for the young ones. A dark-headed bird that otherwise looks like a red-headed woodpecker is a juvenile. They keep their dark heads from their nestling stage until the following February or so. Note also that juvenile red-headeds have dark stripes on their white wing patches. How lucky you are to have red-headed woodpeckers nesting in your neighborhood!

About Birdsquatch

Birdsquatch is WBB's tall, hairy, and slightly stinky columnist. He is a bigfoot who has watched birds all his life. His home range is unknown.

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