- 9.4 in
- 13–16.5 in
- 2–3.2 oz
- Same size as Hairy Woodpecker; three-quarters the size of a Northern Flicker
- Pic à ventre roux (French)
- You may sometimes see Red-bellied Woodpeckers wedge large nuts into bark crevices, then whack them into manageable pieces using their beaks. They also use cracks in trees and fence posts to store food for later in the year, a habit it shares with other woodpeckers in its genus.
- For birds that nest in cavities, nest holes are precious turf. Red-bellied Woodpeckers have been known to take over the nests of other birds, including the much smaller (and endangered) Red-cockaded Woodpecker. But more often they’re victims to the aggressive European Starling. As many as half of all Red-bellied Woodpecker nests in some areas get invaded by starlings.
- You may occasionally see a Red-bellied Woodpecker flying quickly and erratically through the forest, abruptly changing direction, alighting for an instant and immediately taking off again, keeping up a quick chatter of calls. Scientists categorize this odd behavior as a type of play that probably helps young birds practice the evasive action they may one day need.
- The oldest known Red-bellied Woodpecker was a male in Georgia, and at least 12 years, 3 month old when he was identified in the wild by his band.
- A Red-bellied Woodpecker can stick out its tongue nearly 2 inches past the end of its beak. The tip is barbed and the bird’s spit is sticky, making it easier to snatch prey from deep crevices. Males have longer, wider-tipped tongues than females, possibly allowing a breeding pair to forage in slightly different places on their territory and maximize their use of available food.
You 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.
Though 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.
- Clutch Size
- 2–6 eggs
- Number of Broods
- 1-3 broods
- Egg Length
- 0.9–1.1 in
- Egg Width
- 0.7–0.9 in
- Incubation Period
- 12 days
- Nestling Period
- 24–27 days
- Egg Description
- Smooth white.
- Condition at Hatching
- Naked and helpless, eyes closed.
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.
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.
These 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.
Red-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.