Despite its name, the belly of
this woodpecker is primarily light cream in
color, with the red making up a very small patch
that is often barely visible. Males (as at right)
do, however, have very bright red head caps; the
red on females (left) is restricted to the nape
of the neck. Both sexes can be distinguished from
similar species by the black and white
"zebra stripes" on their backs, as well
as by their black beaks. Juvenile coloration is
similar to that of adults, except for a
horn-colored bill and lack of red on the head.
Unlike most other bird species, there is no
seasonal variation in color.
The red-bellied woodpecker
averages 9 to 11 inches in length, with a
wingspan of 13 to 17 inches. It weighs 2 to 3
The red-bellied woodpecker is
found throughout the eastern half of the United
States, from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains
to the Atlantic Coast, and from southern Canada
to the Gulf of Mexico. It inhabits a variety of
forested habitats, including oak-hickory
forest, pine-hardwood forest, maple and
tulip-poplar stands, pine flatwoods, and swampy
woodlands, but is most common in mature hardwood
forests. It can also be found in suburban
backyards and large urban parks, and will take
advantage of bird feeders.
Although tree-boring insects make up a large
part of the red-bellied woodpecker's diet, it
will also take other arboreal arthropods, as well
as small lizards, tree frogs, nestlings, and bird
eggs. It also feeds on a wide variety of fruits,
nuts, seeds, and berries, as well as tree sap.
excavating, pecking, bark scaling, and hawking
are all methods used by red-bellied woodpeckers
to forage for food. Once captured, small food is
consumed by swallowing it whole. Large prey is
thrashed against a tree and pecked at. The tongue
is long, cylindrical, pointed, sticky, and has a
spear-like tip, making it well adapted for
excavating prey from cracks.
forage primarily on the trunks and limbs of trees
and snags. Studies have shown that males and
females forage differently. Males forage
primarily on trunks, while females forage
primarily on tree limbs. Females also forage
higher on the trees than males.
are known to store extra food for later
consumption. Food items such as nuts, acorns,
corn, fruits, seeds and insects are stored deep
in pre-existing cracks and crevices of trees or
Breeding pairs form from early
winter into late spring. Males attract
females with a combination of tree tapping,
"kwirr" calls, and drumming. Although
red-bellied woodpeckers appear to be monogamous
during the breeding season, breeding pairs do not
appear to stay together for more than one season.
The process of selecting the nest site is
highly ritualized in this species, and involves
much mutual tapping, in which one member of the
pair taps softly on the wood from inside a
cavity, and the other taps back from the outside.
Nests are usually excavated in dead trees or the
dead limbs of live trees. Both male and female
excavate the nest cavity, which is lined with
wood chips and is about a foot deep.
When the nest is complete, the female lays
about four smooth, oval, glossy white eggs at
one-day intervals. Both parents incubate the
eggs, which hatch after about 12 days.
Chicks are born naked and with their eyes
closes. The eyes begin to open at about six days,
and are fully open by about day 15. Feathers
begin appearing at about fay 10, and the chick
will be fully feathered by about day 21. The
chicks are fed by both parents until they leave
the nest, at about 27 days. They will follow
their parents for another 10 weeks or so, and
then drive their parents away. The young birds
are probably able to breed the next spring. While
red-bellied woodpeckers occasionally raise two
broods per season, most pairs are only able to
raise one brood per season
The oldest known wild red-bellied woodpecker
was just over 12 years when it died.
Other Habits and
Red-bellied woodpeckers are
most active during the daytime.
Although the red-bellied
woodpecker is a non-migratory species, some
populations in the far northern parts of its
range may move to warmer areas during severe
Walking, climbing and hopping are all forms of
locomotion used by red-bellied woodpeckers. An
interesting form of locomotion used by
woodpeckers is called "hitching,"
hopping upward along a vertical surface such as a
tree trunk interspersed with pauses to look for
Red-bellied woodpeckers have been observed
playing when predators are not around. They may
fly spontaneously and dodge among trees and
shrubs as if evading a predator.
Within-gender conflicts are common and usually
involve a chase and collisions in mid-air.
Red-bellied woodpeckers exhibit many threat
displays, for example, raising their feathers on
their neck and the crown of their head and
spreading their wings and tail to appear larger
to the threatening individual. In the presence of
predators red-bellied woodpeckers sound alarm
calls and retreat to nearby trees or shrubs.
are very vocal, especially during breeding
season. The most common call is a
"chuck-chuck-chuck," descending in
pitch, and there is also a loud, often repeated
genus & species Melanerpes carolinus
All About Birds www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/red-bellied_woodpecker/id
Animal Diversity Web http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Melanerpes_carolinus/
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