Bird Bio: Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Male Red-bellied

Male Red-bellied

Female Red-bellied

Female Red-bellied

The Red-bellied woodpecker has always been one of my favorite feeder birds.  This handsome woodpecker measures around 9.25” in length with a wingspan of roughly 16”.  It is common in mature deciduous woods, and visits backyard feeders regularly.  It has a uniformly barred back, which causes some to misidentify as a Ladder-backed woodpecker, brown under parts, and a white rump that is obvious in flight. The red on the male covers the crown (top of head) and nape of the neck, while the red on females, only the nape of the neck. Many people will ask why it’s called a Red-bellied woodpecker because they fail to see the red on the belly which is a faint round spot about the size of a quarter.  If you get them at your feeders watch closely and you will see the red spot.  The call is distinctive and very unlike the Downy and Hairy woodpeckers.  Calls include sounds such as a churr, or chaw, and a kwir.  

Standing dead tree sections are a great way to attract Red-bellies in the nesting season.

Starlings can be a threat to Red-bellied nest sites.

“Red bellies” nest primarily in cavities in dead snags of trees, another good reason to leave some dead wood in the trees around the yard.  In my yard I’ve had a Black Locust tree dying for years that I’ve left alone because a pair of Red-bellied woodpeckers choose it every year to excavate a new net-site. I’ve read in some books they will use a birdhouse but I’ve never witnessed this.  Starlings tend to be a real threat to a Red-bellies nest-site, often sitting very close by while the woodpeckers work for weeks excavating and then harassing them until they give up, or the Starlings destroy eggs or babies.  They will raise two to sometimes three broods here in the south. 

Male red-bellied on a fresh fruit feeder.

Red-bellies love peanuts in or out of the shell. 

At feeders they readily accept sunflower and safflower seeds, raw peanuts and shelled roasted peanuts, suet, and even fruit.  “Red-bellies” rarely back down to any bird at the feeders, even Blue jays tend to give them space. Don't forget all bird feeders (including peanut and suet feeders) are on sale through February 18th.

AND NEXT WEEK, BLUEBIRDS.  It’s that time.  February is a great time to get Bluebird boxes out as they begin to pair off and begin looking at potential nest-sites.  Over the next few weeks we will cover frequently asked questions about Bluebirds, like nest box location, competition from other birds, and best ways to offer live mealworms.