At first glance, the red-bellied woodpecker seems poorly named – the red wash on its lower abdomen is often impossible to see in the field. Still, this colorful, active woodpecker is a favorite bird in the eastern United States.
- Bill: Black, heavy
- Size: 10 inches long with 17-inch wingspan, slender build
- Colors: Red, gray, tan, black, white
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have a red forehead, crown and nape contrasting with a plain gray or tan face. The underparts are similarly plain, but the wings, back and tail are strongly barred black and white. The lower abdomen between the legs has a faint red or pink wash. A speckled white rump patch and white wing patches are visible in flight. The legs and feet are dark. Females have similar markings but have a gray forehead and crown and less extensive red on the head and underbelly.
Insects, fruit, sap, seeds, vegetables, nuts
Habitat and Migration:
The red-bellied woodpecker is a common species in wooded areas in the eastern United States, including forests, swamplands and marshes. The bird's year-round range extends from South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin east to the Atlantic Ocean and south to the Gulf of Mexico. These birds migrate only minimally, and their winter range is a slight expansion of their year-round territory.
Vocal and noisy, red-bellied woodpeckers have a strong, rapid, high-pitched "kwirr-kwirr-kwirr" chatter call as well as a slightly slower "cha-cha-cha" call. Their drumming is a medium speed that lasts approximately 1 second but can be repeated many times. Hatchlings have a raspy, squeaking begging call.
These bold woodpeckers are active and conspicuous when foraging on the main branches and trunks of trees. They will pick at bark for insects rather than drilling, and have been known to cache seeds and nuts in bark crevices. Red-bellied woodpeckers frequently bully other woodpecker species away from prime nest holes, but they themselves are susceptible to being overtaken at nesting sites by European starlings. At night, these birds also roost in suitable cavities.
These are monogamous birds, and a mated pair will share incubating duties for 11-14 days until their eggs hatch. Both parents will care for the altricial young for an additional 23-26 days, until the fledglings leave the nest. A typical brood can contain 3-8 eggs, and while northern pairs will only raise 1 brood per year, southern pairs can raise up to 3 broods annually.
Attracting Red-Bellied Woodpeckers:
These woodpeckers readily visit backyards offering peanut butter, suet, nuts and sunflower seeds, and they are also known to sip at nectar feeders or sample oranges. Birders should plant berry-producing bushes and avoid using insecticides in order to attract these birds, and leaving hollow or dead trees and limbs intact will encourage the birds to visit, roost or nest.
- Golden-Fronted Woodpecker (Melanerpes aurifrons)
- Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis)