Species Spotlight: Red-Bellied Woodpeckers

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Woodpeckers are a favourite for many backyard birders. Luckily, we live in a region that sees many species of woodpeckers including Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-Headed Woodpeckers, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers and Nuthatches. Some of them are harder to distinguish from each other than others, with red markings occurring on many of these species. 

Red-Bellied Woodpeckers are about the same size as a Hairy Woodpecker. They have an unusual rolling call, almost raccoon-like and are often heard before seen as they approach backyard feeders. From personal experience, I can also state that they are sensitive to how many other birds are present and if you are outside, you may hear them making a fuss in the trees, wanting you to leave so that they can come down. 

Many find the name "Red-Bellied" unsuiting, as they have red heads. However, they do in fact have red bellies! The red belly feathers are often obscured by surrounding feathers and it is typically difficult to see. In the photo below you can see the red hue to the belly. 

Female Red-Bellied Woodpecker eating from Cylinder Feeder. Photo by Heather Kerrison

These beautiful birds are common in woodlands and forests and often venture to backyard bird feeders. They enjoy a wide range of foods. To attract them, try offering: 

  • SuperSuet
  • Bark Butter
  • Peanuts
  • Mealworms 
  • Sunflower Seed
In my own yard, I have noticed that they love the cylinders and they particularly love peanuts. They almost always grab a chunk and take it away. 

Male Red-Bellied Woodpecker visiting a feeder. Photo by Kristen Martyn. 

Females of the species have a red nape but lack the red crown, males have both a red nape and a red crown. 

Fun Fact: A Red-Bellied Woodpecker can stick out its tongue nearly 2 inches past the end of its beak. Males have longer, wider-tipped tongues than females, which could be to allow the pair to forage in slightly different spots in their territory and maximize food. 

They are certainly one of my favourite backyard visitors. Wishing you all Red-Bellied woodpeckers to observe this holiday season! 



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