Bird O'clock

Meet the Rare and Striking Blood-Colored Woodpecker: A Closer Look at Its Plumage Habits and Conservation Status

Have you ever seen a woodpecker with a bright red head? That’s the Blood-colored Woodpecker, scientifically known as Dryobates sanguineus.

This species of bird is a member of the Picidae family and is a rare find in North America, making it a must-see for birdwatchers. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the identification, plumages, and molts of the Blood-colored Woodpecker.


Field Identification

One of the most striking features of the Blood-colored Woodpecker is its bright red head. The red coloration extends down the nape and onto the upper back, while the belly and breast are white.

The wings and tail are black with white spotting, which creates a stunning contrast with the head and upper back. The bill is slightly curved and is grayish-black in color, while the legs and feet are gray.

Similar Species

It’s important to note that the Blood-colored Woodpecker can be easily confused with other woodpecker species that share similar red markings. However, a careful analysis of the plumage pattern and geographical range can easily distinguish this species from others.

The Ladder-backed Woodpecker, for instance, has a similar red patch on the head, but its back is ladder-like with black and white stripes while the Blood-colored lacks this pattern.


The Blood-colored Woodpecker displays sexual dimorphism, which means the male and female have different physical characteristics. Males have a red patch on the forehead and upper back, while adult females have only red at the sightly ashy color.


The molting patterns of the Blood-colored Woodpecker follow the standard pattern of other woodpecker species. They undergo a complete (mating) molt after their breeding season, replacing all their feathers before migration or the onset of winter begins.

Importance of Understanding and Preserving Bird Species

The Blood-colored Woodpecker is just one of the many bird species that make up the rich biodiversity of our planet. By taking the time to learn about birds and their habitats, we can gain a deeper appreciation of their importance and the role they play in maintaining ecological balance.

Moreover, understanding bird species and their behavior enables us to form sound conservation plans that help to preserve these precious resources for future generations to enjoy.

In conclusion, the Blood-colored Woodpecker is a fascinating bird that is a joy to observe and learn about.

It’s distinctive red head and exquisite pattern makes it stand out among other woodpecker species. Understanding and preserving birds is essential in protecting and restoring our environment’s health, and continued learning about species such as the Blood-colored Woodpecker is an important step towards that goal.

Systematics History

The Blood-colored Woodpecker, Dryobates sanguineus, has gone through a long history of taxonomic changes starting in the 1700s. Initially described as Picus sanguineus, the woodpecker would later receive many more generic and specific names before scientists settled on Dryobates sanguineus in 2015.

Geographic Variation

There are several geographically-based populations of the Blood-colored Woodpecker that differ in plumage coloration, especially on the extent of red coloration on the head or back. In every region, individuals from the coasts are more colorful than those from the highlands.


Five subspecies of the Blood-colored Woodpecker are currently recognized:

1. Dryobates sanguineus sanguineus: This is the nominate subspecies of the species found in the mountains of Mexico, from Central Veracruz to Oaxaca, and west to Jalisco.

2. Dryobates sanguineus peninsulae: This subspecies is found in Baja California Sur, Mexico, and is distinguished by having a less conspicuous red patch on the back and reduced spotting on the wings.

3. Dryobates sanguineus lucasanus: This subspecies is found in the islands of Espiritu Santo, San Marcos, San Jose and Partida Sur, all located near the Baja California Peninsula.

4. Dryobates sanguineus longipennis: This subspecies is found in south-central Mexico, in the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca.

It has a more extensive red patch on the back than other subspecies. 5.

Dryobates sanguineus mentalis: This subspecies is native to the highlands of Costa Rica and western Panama. It has the most extensive red patch of any subspecies, covering the head and most of the back, and is less rowdy than its relatives.

Related Species

The Blood-colored Woodpecker is classified in the Dryobates genus, which is composed of about 30 species of New World woodpeckers. The classification of this genus is in constant revision and debate because of recent discoveries regarding genetic differences and ecological niche specialization of some of its species.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The distribution of the Blood-colored Woodpecker has changed as a result of habitat loss during the last 500 years, with extensive land clearance, logging, agriculture and cattle ranching. These activities have impacted the species’ habitat, threatening its survival.

In Mexico, the Blood-colored Woodpecker was thought to be widespread and abundant until the mid-1900s but has become harder to find since. It is now mostly confined to protected areas and regions with little human impact.

In California, the Blood-colored Woodpecker was historically present in the western, coastal region of the state, but this changed as large tracts of land were converted to agriculture, urbanization, and logging in the 20th century. Nowadays, the species’ US range has become restricted to small, isolated pockets of suitable habitat in the southernmost part of the state, such as the Santa Ana Mountains in Orange County.

The expansion of palm oil plantations has also impacted some of the Blood-colored Woodpecker’s populations in Central America, with the

species being a rare and patchy

resident of forested regions. The conservation status of these populations point to the need for effective management and restoration of forest habitats to sustain healthy populations of this species in the future.

Understanding the changes in the species’ habitat and distribution in the past is important for making evidence-based management decisions that protect and conserve this charismatic bird into the future. Furthermore, the Blood-colored Woodpecker’s sensitivities to habitat changes make it a valuable indicator species of ecosystems’ health, and hence conserving this species will help to preserve freshwater and forest ecosystems’ integrity in different countries.


The Blood-colored Woodpecker is mainly found in dry oak-pine forests and coniferous forests throughout its range. These forests are typically located in mountainous regions, often around or above an altitude of 2000 meters.

They need stable, mature forests with standing dead trees or snags, which are important for cavity excavation and nesting. The woodpeckers also rely on ample insect prey populations to survive.

While the species can adapt somewhat to secondary forests and agricultural settings like coffee farms, the overall population of the Blood-colored Woodpecker has declined due to habitat loss. The forests have been destroyed to make way for agriculture, logging, and urbanization.

Movements and Migration

The movements and migration of the Blood-colored Woodpecker are not well documented. Male woodpeckers defend a specific territory in their breeding season, whereas juvenile birds are known to disperse after fledging outside the territory of their parents.

However, the extent of dispersal and the factors influencing it are not well understood. In the south, some populations of Blood-colored Woodpecker enter elevations in search of breeding territory, with males usually arriving first to claim their ideal nest site before females.

Once the first brood is produced, the prospect of additional eggs can cause males to migrate in search of a new female. This movement results in an increase in local population density as males seek new territories and courtship begins again.

Some populations of Blood-colored Woodpecker are known to migrate seasonally or make altitudinal movements. Observations of the species in California revealed that the birds moved from the higher-elevation forests during the wintertime to low-elevation areas where the microclimate was more favorable for foraging.

They were found to be resident along the Central American mountain systems year-round. In general, the patterns of the Blood-colored Woodpecker’s movements and migration still require further study to fully understand.

However, it is essential to understand and protect their source habitats to ensure their survival, so that their instinctual behaviors continue to be documented.

Additionally, the data that is obtained regarding Blood-colored Woodpeckers’ movements helps to sustain and manage their populations, which have been in decline for decades due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Protecting their critical habitats and making them more connected through ecological corridors enables these birds to move between different populations, thereby increasing genetic diversity and improving the chances of the species surviving in the long term.

Diet and Foraging


As a woodpecker, the Blood-colored Woodpecker is adapted for a specialized diet of insects, which they locate by hammering and probing trees and other woody material. The birds use their strong beaks to hammer into the wood or bark and then use their long, sticky tongues to extract the insects’ larvae.


The Blood-colored Woodpecker primarily feeds on ant and beetle larvae, termites, caterpillars, and other small arthropods found within the wood and crevices of trees. They may also eat tree sap and fruits when available.

Due to their reliance on a specialized diet, they are particularly vulnerable to the loss and fragmentation of their natural habitats.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

As a small-bodied woodpecker, Blood-colored Woodpeckers have a high metabolic rate that helps them maintain their body temperature and cope with the energetic demands of foraging activities. Also, metabolic rates are higher than the average for a bird of its size, about 3266 kJ/day.

Blood-colored Woodpeckers maintain their body temperature over relatively narrow ranges, and may not tolerate extreme climatic conditions, making them sensitive to variations in temperature and the availability of moisture, especially during the breeding season.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Blood-colored Woodpecker uses a range of vocalizations for various purposes. Both males and females are known to produce a series of short, high-pitched calls to signal aggression or territoriality to other individuals.

They may also use drumming to establish and defend their territory during mating seasons and to indicate the presence of prey or resources to other members of the same species. The drumming is a characteristic and memorable part of the Blood-colored Woodpecker’s call, with a fast and continuous pace that sounds like a road-compressed two-stroke engine.

These drumming sounds are important because they can reveal crucial information about the woodpecker’s diet and other behavioral patterns, and studies have shown that these sounds can travel for significant distances over forested landscapes and communicate with other individuals, even beyond visible range. In summary, the Blood-colored Woodpecker is a species of woodpecker found in high-altitude forests across North and Central America, including Mexico and California.

Their specialized diet of insects and ants means they are vulnerable to habitat loss and changes in the availability of prey. Their vocalizations and calls, including the memorable drumming sounds, are an important part of their communication, establishing territories, and mating behaviors.

Conservation measures are necessary to protect the species and its habitat and the unique roles it plays in forested ecosystems.



The Blood-colored Woodpecker is primarily arboreal, meaning that it spends most of its time in trees. They use their beaks and sharp claws to cling to the trunks and branches of trees, where they forage for insects.

These birds are known for their acrobatic abilities and can move easily along the trunk’s vertical surface and hang upside down while foraging.

Self Maintenance

Blood-colored Woodpeckers have a unique self-cleaning feature known as the powder-down or preening gland. This gland produces a fine powder-like substance, which they distribute onto their feathers to keep them clean and waterproof.

They will use their beaks to reach the gland, producing a cloud of powder that they rub over their feathers.

Agonistic Behavior

Agonistic behavior in Blood-colored Woodpeckers is usually linked to competition over food or breeding territories between members of the same sex. The birds show aggression by using their bills to jab, peck, and fluff their feather to appear larger.

In extreme cases, this behavior may escalate into physical altercations, with birds actively attacking each other.

Sexual Behavior

Blood-colored Woodpeckers often form monogamous pairs during the breeding season. The male establishes a territory and then attracts a female to the area by calling and performing acrobatic displays.

Once a bond is established, the pair will work together to create a nest site.


Breeding seasons depend on the species’ region of the world. In Mexico, it ranges from June to August, whereas in California, it is from March to July.

The exact time varies each year depending on weather conditions. The male will select a suitable nesting site, usually in a dead or dying tree trunk or a live tree that is already hollowed out.

They will then excavate the nest cavity in the wood using their beaks, and the female will line the inside of the cavity with wood chips. Blood-colored Woodpeckers tend to produce one brood per season, with the clutch size varying from 2 to 4 pure white eggs.

Both parents will share the responsibility of incubating the eggs, which hatch between 14 and 18 days after being laid. After hatching, both parents will work to feed the chicks small insects and ant larvae.

The young take around one month to fledge and leave the nest.

Demography and Populations

The Blood-colored Woodpecker’s populations have been declining due to habitat loss and fragmentation of forests. The exact size and structure of the species’ population are unclear, but it is thought to be relatively small, especially in the northern part of its range.

In California, the Blood-colored Woodpecker is currently listed as a threatened species. This listing provides specific protections and recovery actions to help ensure the survival of the species and its habitat.

In areas where the woodpecker is particularly rare or endangered, conservationists may also implement population monitoring programs to help ensure that populations remain healthy. In Mexico, Blood-colored Woodpecker populations are believed to be relatively stable, but information about the species’ demographics and population sizes is limited.

The species is considered rare, and further research is necessary to determine the status of the species. Ensuring that their habitat remains protected is vital to their survival, and conservation efforts should be in place to mitigate the impact of habitat fragmentation and loss, which may drive the species into decline.

In conclusion, the Blood-colored Woodpecker is a unique and fascinating species of woodpecker found in high-altitude forests across North and Central America. Its bright red head and unique vocalizations make it unmistakable, yet its specialized diet and dependence on mature forests make it vulnerable to habitat loss.

Conservation measures are necessary to protect the species and its habitat, ensuring its survival in the future. From their geographically-based variations to their diet, movements, behavior, breeding, and populations, the Blood-colored Woodpecker serves as a valuable indicator species of forest ecosystems, and every conservation effort put in place helps to preserve biodiversity and ecological balance.

By understanding and preserving birds like the Blood-colored Woodpecker, we are contributing to the larger goal of sustaining ecosystems for present and future generations.

Popular Posts