Red-bellied Woodpecker Life History

Habitat

Habitat ForestsYou can find this species across most of the forests, woodlands, and wooded suburbs of the eastern United States, including oak-hickory forest, pine-hardwood forest, maple and tulip-poplar stands, and pine flatwoods. It’s a bit more common in river bottoms and wetlands, in the south of its range, and at elevations below about 2,000 feet.Back to top

Food

Food InsectsThough this bird mainly eats insects, spiders, and other arthropods, it eats plenty of plant material, too. In particular, acorns, nuts, and pine cones, as well as seeds extracted from annual and perennial plants and (particularly in fall and winter) fruits ranging from grapes and hackberries to oranges and mangoes. Occasionally eats lizards, nestling birds, even minnows.Back to top

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest Cavity Nests in dead trees (hardwoods or pines), dead limbs of live trees, and fence posts. The same pair may nest in the same tree year after year, but typically excavate a new cavity each year, often placing the new one beneath the previous year’s.

Nest Description

Red-bellied Woodpeckers lay their eggs on the bed of wood chips left over after excavating their nest cavity. Nest holes are 22 to 32 centimeters deep, with a cylindrical living space of roughly 9 by 13 centimeters.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:2-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1-3 broods
Egg Length:0.9-1.1 in (2.2-2.9 cm)
Egg Width:0.7-0.9 in (1.7-2.2 cm)
Incubation Period:12 days
Nestling Period:24-27 days
Egg Description:Smooth white.
Condition at Hatching:Naked and helpless, eyes closed.
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Behavior

Behavior Bark ForagerThese birds often stick to main branches and trunks of trees, where they hitch in classic woodpecker fashion, leaning away from the trunk and onto their stiff tail feathers as they search for food hiding in bark crevices. When nesting, males choose the site and begin to excavate, then try to attract a female by calling and tapping softly on the wood around or in the cavity. When a female accepts, she taps along with the male, then helps put the finishing touches on the nest cavity. At feeders, Red-bellied Woodpeckers will push aside most bird species other than Blue Jays.Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Low ConcernRed-bellied Woodpecker populations increased throughout most of their range from 1966 to 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 10 million with 100% found in the U.S. The species rates an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Red-bellied Woodpecker is a U.S.-Canada Stewardship, and is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. These birds have extended their breeding range north over the last 100 years. Back to top

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 out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

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Credits

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center 2014b. Available from http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/.

Shackelford, Clifford E., Raymond E. Brown and Richard N. Conner. 2000. Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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