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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Melanerpes carolinus ORDER: PICIFORMES FAMILY: PICIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Red-bellied Woodpecker Photo

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are pale, medium-sized woodpeckers common in forests of the East. Their strikingly barred backs and gleaming red caps make them an unforgettable sight – just resist the temptation to call them Red-headed Woodpeckers, a somewhat rarer species that's mostly black on the back with big white wing patches. Learn the Red-bellied's rolling call and you’ll notice these birds everywhere.

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Keys to identification Help

Woodpeckers
Woodpeckers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    A sleek, round-headed woodpecker, about the same size as a Hairy Woodpecker but without the blocky outlines.

  • Color Pattern

    Often appears pale overall, even the boldly black-and-white striped back, with flashing red cap and nape. Look for white patches near the wingtips as this bird flies.

  • Behavior

    Look for Red-bellied Woodpeckers hitching along branches and trunks of medium to large trees, picking at the bark surface more often than drilling into it. Like most woodpeckers, these birds have a characteristic undulating flight pattern.

  • Habitat

    Red-bellied Woodpeckers are common in many Eastern woodlands and forests, from old stands of oak and hickory to young hardwoods and pines. They will also often venture from forests to appear at backyard feeders.

Range Map Help

Red-bellied Woodpecker Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male

    Red-bellied Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Red forehead, cap, and nape
    • Black and white barred back
    • Gray face and underparts
    • © Ken Schneider, Florida, January 2009
  • Adult female

    Red-bellied Woodpecker

    Adult female
    • Red nape, reddish around base of bill
    • Black and white barred back
    • Gray face, crown, and underparts
    • Red belly usually concealed by surrounding gray feathers
    • © maia bird, February 2009
  • Adult male

    Red-bellied Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Red forehead, cap, and nape
    • Gray or brownish face and underparts
    • Straight black bill
    • © William Jobes, Pennsylvania, January 2009
  • Adult male

    Red-bellied Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • White patch in wings
    • © Jane Griffith, Ithaca, New York, January 2009
  • Adult male

    Red-bellied Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Red forehead, cap, and nape
    • Gray or brownish face and underparts
    • Breast may be washed with reddish (like belly)
    • © Jason Means, Dunbar, West Virginia, December 2008
  • Adult male

    Red-bellied Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Red patch on belly (often concealed by surrounding feathers)
    • © Lisa Barker
  • Adult male

    Red-bellied Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Black and white barred back
    • Face and breast may be washed with pink or reddish
    • Tail black with innermost and outermost tail feathers black and white barred
    • © Rachel Banai
  • Adult female

    Red-bellied Woodpecker

    Adult female
    • Tail black with innermost and outermost tail feathers black and white barred
    • Black and white barred back
    • © Errol Taskin
  • Adult male

    Red-bellied Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • White rump, blends with white and black central tail feathers
    • White patch in wings
    • © John Collicott
  • Adult male

    Red-bellied Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • White patch in black and white barred wings
    • Red patch on belly (often concealed by surrounding feathers)
    • Tail black with innermost and outermost tail feathers black and white barred
    • © Gregg Doll
  • Juvenile

    Red-bellied Woodpecker

    Juvenile
    • Yellowish on nape and around base of bill
    • © Lisa Barker
  • Adult female

    Red-bellied Woodpecker

    Adult female
    • Red nape, reddish around base of bill
    • Black and white barred back
    • Gray crown and face
    • © Gary Mueller

Similar Species

  • Adult female

    Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

    Adult female
    • Red cap (not nape)
    • Striped face
    • Prominent white stripe on side
    • Black bib, patterned underparts
    • © Robert J. Baker, Virginia, March 2007
  • Adult male

    Gila Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Red crown with brown nape
    • Barred rump and central tail feathers in flight
    • Occurs only in Southwest; Red-bellied Woodpecker occurs in eastern North America
    • © Joan Gellatly, Tucson, Arizona, December 2008
  • Adult male

    Golden-fronted Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Red crown, yellow lower forehead, yellow or orangish nape
    • Black and white barred back, all white rump
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, Texas, December 2006
  • Adult male

    Golden-fronted Woodpecker

    Adult male
    • Red crown, yellow lower forehead, yellow or orangish nape
    • All white rump, all black tail
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, Texas, December 2006
  • Adults

    Red-headed Woodpecker

    Adults
    • Unmarked black back with bold white wing patches
    • Completely red head (including throat and cheek)
    • © hoganphoto, New Jersey, May 2003
  • Adult male yellow-shafted

    Northern Flicker

    Adult male yellow-shafted
    • Brown and black barred back
    • Pale underparts with black spots
    • Black mark on chest
    • No red nape (males have red nape crescent)
    • Brown or gray face and throat contrasts with underparts
    • © Steve Delloff, September 2008

Similar Species

The Golden-fronted Woodpecker of south Texas has yellow on the forehead and back of the neck. The Red-headed Woodpecker has an all-red head and neck, black back, and large white patches on the wing. Ladder-backed Woodpecker of Texas and the Southwest is smaller, with a black-and-white striped head and barred flanks. Northern Flickers have brown-and-black barred backs (not black-and-white) and are spotted below, with a black crescent on the chest. Hairy and Downy woodpeckers have a long white stripe down the middle of the back.

Backyard Tips

Red-bellied Woodpeckers bring bright colors and entertaining action to bird feeders. If you live near any wooded patches, you may be able to attract them using feeders filled with suet (in winter), peanuts, and sometimes sunflower seeds. They’ve even been spotted drinking nectar from hummingbird feeders. Dead trees may encourage the birds to forage naturally or even nest in your yard, and they may feed on berry trees such as hawthorn or mountain-ash in fall or winter.

Find This Bird

Keep an eye out for this species in eastern woodlands all year round, particularly at middle heights and along main branches and trunks of trees. It pays to learn the bird’s calls, too: Red-bellied Woodpeckers are loud and call frequently during spring and summer.

Get Involved

Landscape your yard for woodpeckers and other cavity-nesting birds (PDF)

Red-bellied Woodpeckers love to come to bird feeders. Watch them and report your sightings as part of Project FeederWatch, the Great Backyard Bird Count, or all year long via the free online program eBird.

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