The Blue Jays are back in force at the feeders. During the summer months they were seen only sporadically. I believe there is a definite pecking order among the jays at the bird feeders, but without a means of identifying the individual birds it is impossible to say for sure who is dominant over whom.   They have a scrappy reputation and demonstrate this antagonistic behavior among one another, as well as around other species.  When a jay flies into the feeder, all the smaller birds leave and rarely will two jays sit next to one another peaceably.  There is always much leaping, sparring, and flapping of wings when they move in.

However there is one bird that they will abandon their spots on the feeder for and that is the Red-bellied

red-bellied woodpecker at blue jay at feeder

Red-bellied Woodpeckers do not like company at the feeders.

Woodpecker, a member of the Melanerpini ‘tribe’, which also includes the Acorn Woodpecker and the Sapsuckers.  These are all medium-sized birds and somewhat more colorful than other woodpeckers.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are relative newcomers to our region of north central Minnesota.  We never saw one in the first eleven years that we lived here.  The first one appeared in 2001 and then there was a gap until 2011.  Now they have been regulars for the past 10 years.  This follows a pattern shown through the reports of Feeder Watch participants.  These are birds who were mainly found in the southeastern U.S., but they have been rapidly moving northward in recent decades. This could be due the warming climate, but more likely is a result of the explosion in the popularity of ‘backyard bird feeding’.

Despite their given name, you are unlikely to see any reddish feathers on this bird’s belly unless you are able to hold it in your hand.  Their ruby red cap is much more evident. Both male and female have this feature, but on the female


This male Red-bellied Woodpecker shows the full red cap and a blush of red on his breast feathers.

it only goes half way up the back of her head. The male’s continues over the top of the head and down to the top of the beak. Both have black and white barred (ladder backed) feathers on their backs, and greyish white bellies and faces. When they fly you may see white patches near the wingtips and whitish rump patches.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are omnivores and will eat fruit, seeds, nuts, insects, eggs of small birds (the reason one friend calls the one by their house, the ‘murderer’), and even tree frogs on occasion. We see them at both our suet feeders and the sunflower bird seeds.  They are as unwilling to share the suet as they are the seeds and I have watched one chase away other woodpeckers so that it can have the feeder all to itself.  They regularly cache food for winter storing insects and nuts in holes, cracks and under the bark. Not early risers, Red-bellieds don’t begin to make any calls until after sunrise. Their call is described as chig-chig or a rolling chur.

We have also seen at least one immature bird – identified by the lack of any red on its head.  We have enough dead coniferous trees in our forest to provide them a wide selection of options for their cavity nest, which is deep enough to prevent the sun from entering. However they are susceptible to invasion by starlings and cowbirds. Both parents work on the nest, incubate the eggs and share feeding duties once the young hatch.

With the addition of the Red-bellied woodpecker we now have hosted six of the nine species of woodpecker (this includes the Yellow-bellied sapsucker and Northern flicker) found in Minnesota. Our cup runneth over.

By Kate Crowley