Notice for readers: On March 31, Neotropical Birds will be integrated into the new Birds of the World, a powerful research database offering species accounts for every species on earth. Learn more at While Birds of the World is a subscription service, we remain committed to offering this content to Neotropical Birds contributors and to those unable to pay for it through our scholarship program. Stay tuned.

Crimson-crested Woodpecker Campephilus melanoleucos

  • Order: Piciformes
  • Family: Picidae
  • Polytypic: 2 subspecies
  • Authors: Connor Rosenblatt



Foraging Behavior: Five main methods of foraging have been observed:

1) Pecking: Crimson-crested Woodpeckers uncover prey in the superficial layers of wood with relatively few pecks (Kilham 1972).

2) Percussion: These woodpeckers do not always peck only to find food; they also give exploratory pecks every now and then, without digging into the wood, in hope of causing the wood-boring larvae to move within their tunnels or to sound out differences between an open tunnel and solid wood (Kilham 1972).

3) Scaling: When on dead limbs, Crimson-crested Woodpecker combines pecking with sidewise, glancing blows that dislodge large pieces of loose bark and other debris that falls to the ground as the woodpecker moves along. They combine powerful, rapid, occasionally prying blows in order to uncover prey when on these dead limbs (Kilham 1972).

4) Probing: Crimson-crested Woodpeckers place the bill into natural cavities where they explore the insectaries with their long tongues (Kilham 1972), which have short, narrow, sharp tips that form a stiffened spear point (Wetmore 1968).

5) Digging: When foraging on well rotted stubs for deep lying prey, Crimson-crested Woodpeckers may dig holes 10 cm or more deep, during which process they toss large pieces of wood to the ground (Kilham 1972).

Foraging behavior may also change with relation to the dry and rainy seasons:

Dry Season: During the dry season, pairs often forage together, often within 15 m of each other. They are found foraging in mature forests, feeding on average at intermediate levels in the trees. The females have been observed to be the more active forager, as they often are the first to fly to a new tree (Kilham 1972).

Rainy Season: During the rainy season, these woodpeckers forage on relatively small branches, often on the underside of these limbs. It is presumed that during the rainy season, insects are particularly abundant on these undersides, where moisture tends to accumulate. However, the branches the Crimson-crested Woodpeckers forage on are significantly smaller than branches that woodpeckers of similar size often forage on (Kilham 1972).

Agonistic Behavior: Both females and males engage in agonistic behavior:

-Female vs. Female: Two females may align low on a series of trees, where they move about the trunks, one trying to shrike the other, or displaying. Conflicts such as these may be over territory, as several juveniles are present, and the conflict occurred at the end of nesting season (Kilham 1972).

-Male vs. Male: Two males were observed where one male was pursuing the other in short, heavy-sounding flights from tree to tree, centered around a large stub (suitable for nesting), which the two males often returned to. When the woodpeckers were resting, two direct conflicts were seen: the first was where one male clung upside down to a large limb and the other was perched on top and half opened its wings anytime the one below tried to go up top. The other was when both males flew in opposite directions and the territory owner drummed in a slow but reasonable fashion for about six minutes before attacking the intruding male (Kilham 1972).


Very little quantitative data. At one site in southeastern Peru, Terborgh et al. (1990) estimated a density of 0.25 pairs/100 ha.

Both males and females exhibit territorial behavior towards each other, where they engage in agonistic behavior when defending territory. No vocalizations or bill wavings occur when defending territory, which may be due to the fact that in the tropics the birds are at too large of a risk for predation to attract attention when defending territory (Kilham 1972).

Sexual Behavior

Displays: Bill-touching between male and female Crimson-crested Woodpeckers is common during the most active periods of courtship. During this, the pair comes close together, crests raised, and engage in bill-touching, making contact for roughly half the length of their bill. This interest in bills during display may be related to the way a male pecks down at the bill of the female while copulating (Kilham 1972).

Courtship: Male and female are seen each on their own trees about 14 m tall and 10 m apart, where the two begin a duet of drumming. The male then flies to the female's tree, where the female moves out on a horizontal branch and crouches low in a crosswise position as the male approaches. The male will then mount on top of the female, peck gently down at her bill four to five times, gradually falling to the left in an establishing contact (Kilham 1972).

Social and interspecific behavior

The Crimson-crested Woodpecker is usually found in pairs, and frequently moves about in close company (Wetmore 1968).

Despite similar foraging strategies with the Lineated Woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus), these two birds seem to coexist together fairly well. The two are not very hostile, as the larger Crimson-crested Woodpecker will often displace the smaller Lineated Woodpecker from trees where the latter was foraging; however, there is usually no confrontation (Kilham 1972).

Crimson-crested Woodpeckers have also been observed foraging in areas alongside marmosets; however, the two species seem to almost ignore one another, as the Crimson-crested Woodpecker does not get excited. It is a very tame woodpecker (Kilham 1972).


No information available.

Recommended Citation

Rosenblatt, C. (2012). Crimson-crested Woodpecker (Campephilus melanoleucos), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.