Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Diet of Nestling Red-Headed Woodpeckers in South Carolina

Formally Refereed
Authors: Mark Vukovich, John C. Kilgo
Year: 2019
Type: Scientific Journal
Station: Southern Research Station
Source: Southeastern Naturalist


Melanerpes erythrocephalus (Red-headed Woodpecker) has experienced sharp declines in portions of its range. Knowledge of how birds use their nesting habitats, particularly what foods they exploit, may be important in determining causes of population declines, but no modern quantitative study exists on diets of nestling Red-headed Woodpeckers. Our objectives were to identify diets of nestling Red-headed Woodpeckers and quantify variability in food types over time and between roles of males and females in provisioning their young. We conducted observations of nests on the Savannah River Site, SC, from June to September, 2006–2007. We recorded 791 food items fed to nestlings, representing 7 taxa of plants and 18 taxa of animals (16 invertebrate, 2 vertebrate). We assigned food items as either animal matter or soft mast and compared proportions using a binomial mixed model approach. Of the 12 models we tested, 3 received 67% of the cumulative AIC model weight and all included either year or month, indicating annual and monthly variation in foods fed to nestlings. Animal matter composed the majority of Red-headed Woodpecker nestling foods (71.5%), but notably, soft mast was an important component (28.5%). We suggest that future research on Red-headed Woodpeckers consider how the availability of soft mast may or may not limit productivity of this species.


Vukovich, Mark; Kilgo, John C. 2019. Diet of nestling Red-Headed Woodpeckers in South Carolina. Southeastern Naturalist. 18(2): 173-.