Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2002-

Common name:

Red-headed Woodpecker

Scientific name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Date: July 7, 2002
Time: 6:10 pm
Length of time observed: 15 minutes
Number: 1
Age: adult
Sex: unknown
Location: Near White Pine Lake, Cache County
County: Cache
Latilong: 3
Elevation: 8,400 ft
Distance to bird: 30-100 ft
Optical equipment: 8x20 Zeiss
Weather: Sunny, temperature about 85 F
Light Conditions: Excellent
Detailed description of bird: Unmistakeable. Pure red head and throat, solid black back and tail, large white wing spots (in secondaries), white breast, belly and under-tail coverts. The eye was dark and the bill was whitish. In flight, the wings were black except for large white patches caused from white secondary feathers; the rump was also white while the back
was black. (see rough drawing done in field).

Here are the original notes and drawings  [This is a "pdf" file -- you need Acrobat Reader to bring it up -- e-mail if you have problems or questions].

Song or call & method of delivery: none
Behavior: This bird first flushed from low in a tree, flew to three different trees, and finally ended up working the dead top of an Engelmann spruce tree for an extended period of time. The bird did a couple of short flights from the top of this tree, perhaps to catch insects (much like Lewis' woodpecker). The bird flaked small shavings from this tree and was still working the tree when I left.
Habitat: Open Engelmann spruce/subalpine fir forest with herbacious understory.
Similar species and
how were they eliminated:
No other bird has the stark combination of  red head, solid black back with large wing spots and white underparts. The red-breasted sapsucker is the only woodpecker with a red head, but the red extends well down into the breast, ending in rather bright yellow on the belly. Also, the back is somewhat checkered black and white, and the white wing patches are in the shoulder area, not in the secondaries. Also, the red of the head of the red-headed woodpecker is a more pure red, not the orange-red of the sapsucker.
Previous experience with this & similar species: I have seen red-headed woodpeckers at least 100 times, primarily in Michigan and have a number of photos.
References consulted: The Sibley Guide to Birds
Description from: Notes taken at time of sighting
Observer: Ron Ryel
Observer's address: 1649 North 1000 East, North Logan, UT 84341
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified
this bird:
Date prepared: July 8, 2002   (General Public)
Additional material: Drawing  [This is a "pdf" file -- you need Acrobat Reader to bring it up -- e-mail if you have questions].
Additional comments: This was a most unexpected bird, both in time of year and location. It is the first Cache County sighting. Usually this is a species of lowland deciduous forests, but sometimes they occur in Ponderosa pine. But spruce/fir forest at 8,400 ft elevation is a bit unusual. I assume the bird was a non-breeding (or post breeding) individual wandering about. I would have expected such a bird to visit during more typical migratory periods.