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Red-bellied Woodpecker

Common Name: Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Scientific Name: Melanerpes Carolinus.

What to look for?  Let’s start with the confusing parts. First, unlike their name, they do not have the red belly that you would expect! It is the cap on their head that is red but not like the Red-headed Woodpecker which has a completely red head. Rather the Red-bellied Woodpecker has a brilliant red cap on an otherwise white head. This red cap and the zebra-like, black-and-white barred back are two key distinguishing features. And the Red-bellied Woodpecker has a light cream to pink chest and belly.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? You can find Red-bellied Woodpeckers around here all year. Look up in your trees in the yards and the woods around Carillon Stonegate Pond and you may see one hitched to the trunk of a tree picking at the bark. Or you may find a Red-bellied Woodpecker visiting your bird feeder – spring, summer, fall or winter.

How big are they? The Red-bellied Woodpecker averages around nine inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately 15 inches. They weigh in at around 2 ½ ounces.

What are their flight patterns? Like most woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a characteristic undulating (rising-and-falling) flight pattern called "Flap-bounding" where short bursts of flapping are alternated with intervals in which the wings are folded against the body.

How else do they behave? You may sometimes see Red-bellied Woodpeckers wedge large nuts into bark crevices, then hammer them with their bill into smaller pieces. They also use cracks in trees trunks and branches to store food for later in the year. These birds often stick to main branches and trunks of trees, where they hitch in classic woodpecker fashion, leaning away from the trunk and onto their stiff tail feathers as they visually search for food hiding in bark crevices. At feeders, Red-bellied Woodpeckers will push aside most other birds except for Blue Jays. They also “drum” or rapidly hammer loudly against a tree trunk steadily at about 19 beats per second for a second or so at a time. This “drumming” behavior is used to attract a mate and to defend territory.

What’s for dinner? Insects! Red-bellied Woodpeckers primarily eat insects, spiders, and other arthropods. They also dine on plant material including acorns and other nuts and seeds.

Where do they take up residence? Red-bellied woodpeckers are common in forests, woodlands, wetlands, and suburban trees throughout the eastern half of the continental United States. These birds are not found west of the Great Plains.

When and where do they breed and nest? Red-bellied Woodpeckers nest in dead trees (hardwoods or pines) and dead limbs of live trees. The same pair may nest in the same tree year after year, but more typically excavate a new cavity each year, often positioning the new one beneath the previous year’s nesting area.

Where do they migrate? Red-bellied Woodpeckers do not migrate. They are residents year around from the Great Plains eastward.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Red-bellied Woodpecker has seen increases in populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 16 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? The Red-bellied Woodpecker’s most common call is a shrill, rolling “kwirr” or “churr”. You might also hear a gruff, coughing “cha cha cha” sound or a throaty growl. They will make quite a scene by “drumming” on trees to mark territory or to attract a mate. “Drumming” is when they rapidly hammer loudly against a tree trunk. They will do this steadily at about 19 beats per second for a second or so at a time. Here is a link to the sounds of a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Interesting Facts About the Red-bellied Woodpecker:

  • They can stick out their barbed tongue nearly 2 inches past the end of its beak, making it easier to snatch prey from deep crevices.

  • Red-bellied Woodpeckers have been known to take over the nests of other birds and their nests in some areas get invaded by starlings.

  • Engage in odd behavior or type of play where a Red-bellied Woodpecker flies quickly and erratically through the forest, abruptly changes direction, alights for an instant and immediately takes off again, while keeping up a quick chatter of calls – this is thought to be practice training for young birds to evade predators.

  • The oldest known Red-bellied Woodpecker was 12 years old.

For more information on the Red-bellied Woodpecker and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, National Geographic and National Wildlife Federation.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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