Woodpeckers in general cannot be called flashy. All of them have varying degrees of black and white feathers. All but the Black-backed and Three-Toed woodpeckers have some red feathers on their heads to add a spark of color to their starkly contrasting body feathers. A couple, like the Red-headed and Pileated have fiery red feathers on their heads – real showstoppers, but the Red-bellied woodpecker comes in as a close second for stunning ‘headwear’.
Its common name is a bit misleading since the belly feathers are only a muted pinkish color and hard to see unless you are holding the bird in your hand, but the red on its crown and the back of its head is a brilliant as any of its competitors, especially when the sun hits it directly.
We have had a male Red-bellied woodpecker show up at our feeders this year and we are thrilled to add it to our house list. Typically this species has been found in the southeastern United States in and around deciduous forests, rivers and swamps. In recent decades it has been gradually moving north, which may in part be related to the warming climate, as well as the proliferation of bird feeders in towns and suburbs.
Like the other woodpeckers, its diet is omnivorous depending on the season and unexpected opportunities. Berries and nuts, as well as flying insects are all on the menu. Black sunflower seeds are popular, but suet is even more attractive. None of our other woodpeckers (except the Flickers) are ever seen on the ground eating bird seed or grain, but the Red-bellied is often standing below the platform feeder foraging. It has the same ability as all woodpeckers to pound into a tree trunk and excavate insect larvae with its long, curled tongue. They are known to be aggressive birds, even chasing equally antagonistic Blue Jays away, but we haven’t seen any of this sort of behavior yet.
We wonder whether this male will find a mate come spring and decide to make our property its permanent home. In the meantime these birdwatchers will enjoy its visits to our assorted bird feeders.
By Kate Crowley
Photos by Mike Link