Photo Credit: Dave Cagnolatti & Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation
SCIENTIFIC NAME:Melanerpes carolinus
DESCRIPTION: The most common woodpecker in the southeast, the red-bellied woodpecker is about nine to ten inches tall with a wingspan of 13 to 17 inches. As its name indicates, the belly is a light red or pinkish color. The red belly is often hidden from view as the bird perches or feeds against a tree trunk. Males are easily identifiable by the red coloration on the top of the head and neck. Females lack the red coloration on their head. The back is prominently striped horizontally with black and white barring. A white patch at the base of the primary feathers is highly visible in flight.
Males have a longer bill and a longer, wider tongue than females. These physical differences may allow the male to reach deeper into furrows to obtain food items. Researchers suggest these slight physical differences are an adaptation to allow the sexes to divide up the resources in one area.
The red-headed woodpecker, a similar species, has red on the entire head, neck, face, and throat and has bold black and white patches on the back. The red-headed woodpecker lacks the horizontal barring on the back of the red-bellied woodpecker.
DISTRIBUTION: Red-bellied woodpeckers are found throughout most of the eastern United States, except for northern New England. Birds in the northern part of the range may migrate south in extremely cold winter months. Throughout Alabama, it is a common to permanent resident.
HABITAT: Found in a wide array of deciduous or coniferous forested habitats or suburban areas throughout its range.
FEEDING HABITS: Unlike many other woodpeckers, the red-bellied diet consists of more fruit than insects. The fruit items in its diet are highly variable but include many wild berries. It hangs upside down when feeding on berries. It also feeds on acorns, beech mast, seeds, beetles, grasshoppers, ants, and other insects. Its bill is used to probe for insects in trees and stumps. This bird is also known to store or cache food items in cracks and crevices of trees, fence posts, and other wood products.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Red-bellied woodpeckers nest in cavities excavated in dead limbs or trees. The nest typically has a layer of wood chips left from the excavation. They aggressively defend the nest site from other woodpeckers but are often evicted by starlings.
Clutch size varies from two to six with the average being four. The eggs are incubated for approximately 12 days and the young are born naked and helpless with their eyes closed. The young fledge from the nest in a 24 to 27 days. Males and females assist with incubation and feeding of the young.
Imhof, Thomas A. 1962. Alabama Birds. State of Alabama, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Game and Fish Division by the University of Alabama Press
Robbins, Chandler S, Bertel Bruun, and Herbert S. Zim. 1983. A Guide to Field Identification Birds of North America. Western Publishing Company.
AUTHOR: Ray Metzler, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, September 2006