Red-headed Woodpecker – Accepted

1. 20 May 1962


La Puente LA



ph., CSULB 2955 (found dead)

2. 17 Jul–22 Aug 1971


Wister IMP



Cardiff & Driscoll (1972), Roberson (1980)

3. 09 Jun 1986


Pt. Saint George DN



ph. AB 40:1252

4. 14 Sep 1988–23 Apr 1989


Goleta SBA



Fig. 336, ph. AB 43:53, Small (1994:plate 55)

5. 17 Jul 1999


Pt. Reyes MRN





Red-headed Woodpecker – Not submitted

29 Dec 1946


Marysville YUB



AFN1:114, cf. Manolis (2006)

30 Dec 1966


Yosemite Valley, Yosemite NP MRP



AFN 21:384








Figure 336. Five adult Red-headed Woodpeckers have been found in California, all but one in spring or summer. This one wintered in Goleta, Santa Barbara County, where it was photographed on 5 March 1989 (1988-168; Larry Sansone).







Red-headed Woodpecker

RED-HEADED WOODPECKER Melanerpes erythrocephalus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Accepted: 5 (100%)

Treated in Appendix H: no

Not accepted: 0

CBRC review: all records

Not submitted/reviewed: 3

Color image: none

This distinctive woodpecker is a short-distance migrant that breeds across most of the East, including parts of southern Canada from southern Saskatchewan east to southwestern Quebec. After breeding, most birds withdraw from the northern Great Plains and Great Lakes regions, and the southern edge of the range expands slightly. The species is a rare visitor to New England and a casual one to parts of Canada that lie outside of the normal range. In the West, the species has reached southern British Columbia, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and Washington (NAB 58:593). Mexico awaits its first record.

The natural occurrence of California’s first Red-headed Woodpecker—a partially decomposed adult found on 20 May 1962 along the shoulder of a highway in La Puente, Los Angeles County (Marqua 1963)—was questioned by some (e.g., McCaskie et al. 1970) who suggested that the body might have been transported to California against the grill of a vehicle or in some other manner. Nearly three decades later, after three more Red-headed Woodpeckers had been found in the state, the CBRC finally reviewed the first record. After careful consideration, the Committee concluded that the bird was most likely a naturally occurring vagrant that happened to expire along the roadside (e.g., due to a vehicle collision). Four of the state’s five records pertain to spring or summer vagrants during the period 20 May–22 August. The exception involves a widely seen adult that spent the winter of 1988/1989 in Goleta, Santa Barbara County (Figure 336). Despite the general tendency of young birds to wander, all five California records involve adults.

This conspicuous and readily identified woodpecker is one of several species with relatively short, north-south oriented migration pathways through central and eastern North America that are extremely rare or absent in California. The essay entitled “Birding in California, 1960–2007,” which starts on page 35 of this book, touches upon some of the possible reasons such species tend to be exceptionally scarce vagrants to California.


[AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER Picoides dorsalis Baird, 1858 – see hypothetical section]