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8 Red-headed Birds in New Jersey

red-headed birds in new jersey
Common Merganser in Somerset, New Jersey: Photo by Javad Shahidi

Introduction

New Jersey is home to a diverse array of bird species, including several with striking red plumage that add vibrancy to its landscapes. From the elegant green-winged teal to the iconic pileated woodpecker, these red-headed birds capture the attention of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. Let’s explore the world of red-headed birds in New Jersey, discovering their unique features, behavior, habitat preferences, conservation status, and fascinating fun facts.

Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)

red-headed birds in new jersey
Photo by Samuel Paul Galick
  • Features: The green-winged teal is a small dabbling duck with intricate plumage patterns. Males sport a chestnut-colored head with a distinctive green eye patch and a vertical white stripe on the side of the breast.
  • Behavior: Green-winged teals are migratory birds that breed in northern North America and winter in southern regions, including New Jersey. They prefer shallow freshwater habitats such as marshes, ponds, and flooded fields, where they feed on aquatic plants, seeds, and invertebrates.
  • Habitat: During migration and winter, green-winged teals can be found in a variety of wetland habitats, including coastal marshes, estuaries, and inland ponds. They are often seen in mixed flocks with other dabbling duck species.
  • Conservation Status: The green-winged teal is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN due to its large population and widespread distribution across North America. However, habitat loss and degradation pose localized threats to their breeding and wintering habitats.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their small size, green-winged teals are agile fliers, capable of rapid, twisting flight maneuvers to evade predators.

Redhead (Aythya americana)

red-headed birds in new jersey
Photo by Rob Fischer
  • Features: The redhead is a medium-sized diving duck with a distinctive reddish-brown head and gray body. Males exhibit a bright red head and neck during the breeding season, while females have a duller brown head.
  • Behavior: Redheads are proficient divers, using their powerful legs and webbed feet to propel themselves underwater in search of aquatic plants, seeds, and invertebrates. They are often found in large flocks on open water bodies during migration and winter.
  • Habitat: Redheads breed in prairie pothole regions of the northern United States and Canada, where they nest in marshes, ponds, and lakes surrounded by grassy vegetation. During migration and winter, they can be found in a variety of freshwater habitats, including lakes, reservoirs, and coastal estuaries.
  • Conservation Status: The redhead is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, but populations have declined due to habitat loss, degradation, and hunting pressure. Conservation efforts focus on protecting breeding habitat and implementing sustainable management practices to ensure their long-term survival.
  • Fun Fact: Redheads are social birds that often form large flocks during migration and winter, engaging in synchronized diving and foraging behaviors.

Common Merganser (Non-breeding) (Mergus merganser)

red-headed birds in new jersey
Photo by Chaiby Leiman
  • Features: The common merganser is a large diving duck with a slender body, long neck, and distinctive serrated bill. Non-breeding males and females have a striking contrast of black and white plumage, with a reddish-brown head.
  • Behavior: Common mergansers are highly skilled divers and fish hunters, using their strong wings and webbed feet to propel themselves underwater in pursuit of prey. During the non-breeding season, they form large flocks on open water bodies, where they feed on fish, crustaceans, and aquatic insects.
  • Habitat: Common mergansers inhabit a variety of freshwater habitats, including lakes, rivers, streams, and coastal estuaries. They prefer clear, fast-flowing water with abundant fish populations for foraging.
  • Conservation Status: The common merganser is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN due to its large population and widespread distribution across North America. However, habitat degradation, pollution, and fishing activities pose localized threats to their populations.
  • Fun Fact: Common mergansers are known for their spectacular courtship displays, which include elaborate head-bobbing, preening, and synchronized swimming rituals.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

red-headed birds in new jersey
Photo by Jeff Ellerbusch
  • Features: The turkey vulture is a large bird of prey with dark plumage, a featherless red head, and a distinctive soaring flight pattern. It is well-known for its scavenging habits and keen sense of smell.
  • Behavior: Turkey vultures are scavengers that feed primarily on carrion, using their keen sense of smell to locate decaying carcasses. They are often seen soaring high in the sky, riding thermal updrafts and scanning the ground for food.
  • Habitat: Turkey vultures inhabit a variety of open habitats, including forests, grasslands, deserts, and urban areas. They are commonly found near areas with abundant food sources, such as roadkill, landfills, and agricultural fields.
  • Conservation Status: The turkey vulture is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN due to its large population and widespread distribution across the Americas. However, they face threats from habitat loss, poisoning, and collisions with vehicles and structures.
  • Fun Fact: Turkey vultures have an extraordinary sense of smell, allowing them to detect the scent of carrion from great distances, sometimes up to a mile away.

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

red-headed birds in new jersey
Photo by Eric Stone
  • Features: The red-headed woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker with striking plumage, including a bright red head, black-and-white wings, and a solid black back.
  • Behavior: Red-headed woodpeckers are skilled foragers, using their strong bills to extract insects from tree bark and catch flying insects in mid-air. They also store food by wedging it into crevices in trees for later consumption.
  • Habitat: Red-headed woodpeckers prefer open woodlands, including forests, woodlots, orchards, and parks, with mature trees for nesting and foraging. They are also commonly found in savannas and along woodland edges.
  • Conservation Status: The red-headed woodpecker is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN due to population declines caused by habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and competition for nest sites with invasive species like European starlings. Conservation efforts focus on habitat restoration and providing artificial nest cavities to support breeding populations.
  • Fun Fact: Red-headed woodpeckers are known for their unique habit of storing acorns and other nuts by wedging them into crevices in tree bark, fence posts, and other structures.

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

red-headed birds in new jersey
Photo by Erica Heusser
  • Features: The red-bellied woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker with a red crown, a black-and-white barred back, and a pale red wash on its belly.
  • Behavior: Red-bellied woodpeckers are omnivorous and feed on a variety of food items, including insects, fruits, nuts, seeds, and sap. They are known for their distinctive “churr” calls and drumming sounds, which they use for communication and territory defense.
  • Habitat: Red-bellied woodpeckers inhabit a variety of forested habitats, including deciduous forests, mixed woodlands, and suburban areas with mature trees. They are often seen foraging on tree trunks and branches, probing for insects and excavating cavities for nesting.
  • Conservation Status: The red-bellied woodpecker is not globally threatened and is considered a species of Least Concern by the IUCN. However, habitat loss and fragmentation pose localized threats to their populations, particularly in areas undergoing urbanization and deforestation.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their name, red-bellied woodpeckers have only a faint reddish wash on their bellies, which is often difficult to see in the field.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

  • Features: The pileated woodpecker is the largest woodpecker species in North America, with a striking black body, white stripes on the face and neck, and a prominent red crest.
  • Behavior: Pileated woodpeckers are powerful excavators, using their chisel-like bills to dig deep into tree trunks in search of wood-boring insects. They also feed on ants, beetles, and other arthropods found in decaying wood.
  • Habitat: Pileated woodpeckers inhabit mature forests with large trees, where they carve out extensive nest cavities and forage for food. They are often associated with old-growth forests and wooded areas with abundant dead and decaying wood.
  • Conservation Status: The pileated woodpecker is not globally threatened and is considered a species of Least Concern by the IUCN. However, they are sensitive to habitat disturbance and require large tracts of mature forest for breeding and foraging.
  • Fun Fact: Pileated woodpeckers have been nicknamed “forest architects” due to their ability to create extensive cavities that provide nesting sites for other cavity-nesting birds and shelter for a variety of wildlife.

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

red-headed birds in new jersey
Photo by Gavin Potts
  • Features: The house finch is a small songbird with a distinctive red-orange coloration on the forehead, throat, and breast of males. Females and non-breeding males have brown and streaked plumage.
  • Behavior: House finches are highly adaptable birds that inhabit a wide range of urban, suburban, and rural habitats. They feed on a variety of seeds, fruits, and insects and are often seen at backyard feeders and bird baths.
  • Habitat: House finches are commonly found in residential areas, parks, gardens, and agricultural fields with abundant food sources and suitable nesting sites. They are known for their melodious songs and lively social behavior.
  • Conservation Status: The house finch is not globally threatened and is considered a species of Least Concern by the IUCN. However, they are susceptible to diseases such as Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, which can affect their populations, particularly in areas with high densities of feeder birds.
  • Fun Fact: House finches are prolific singers and can produce a wide variety of vocalizations, including complex songs and calls that vary regionally.

Threats and Conservation

The red-headed birds of New Jersey face various threats, including habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, pollution, climate change, and human disturbance. Conservation efforts focus on protecting and restoring critical habitats, implementing sustainable management practices, raising public awareness, and supporting research and monitoring initiatives.

Citizen Science

Birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts play a crucial role in monitoring bird populations, contributing valuable data to citizen science projects like eBird. By reporting their bird sightings and observations, citizens help scientists track population trends, assess habitat changes, and inform conservation decisions.

Conclusion

New Jersey’s red-headed birds enrich the state’s natural landscapes with their vibrant colors, distinctive calls, and fascinating behaviors. As stewards of our environment, it is our responsibility to protect and conserve these species for future generations to enjoy. Through collaborative conservation efforts and citizen science participation, we can ensure the continued survival of New Jersey’s red-headed avian treasures.