Photo: Helena Reynolds/Audubon Photography Awards

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Melanerpes carolinus

Primarily a bird of the southeast, where its rolling calls are familiar sounds in swamps and riverside woods. Omnivorous and adaptable, this woodpecker has also adjusted to life in suburbs and city parks, and in recent years it has been expanding its range to the north. Despite the name, the red on the belly is not often visible in the field.
Conservation status Apparently the species was declining in some northern areas during the first half of the 20th century, but in recent decades the trend has reversed and it has extended its range to the north. Overall population seems stable or may be increasing slightly.
Family Woodpeckers
Habitat Woodlands, groves, orchards, towns. Most common in deciduous forest, especially along rivers and in swamps. Also in mixed coniferous and deciduous forest, less often in pure stands of pine. May be found in rather open areas, such as forest edges and clearings, groves of trees in farm country, shade trees in suburbs.
Primarily a bird of the southeast, where its rolling calls are familiar sounds in swamps and riverside woods. Omnivorous and adaptable, this woodpecker has also adjusted to life in suburbs and city parks, and in recent years it has been expanding its range to the north. Despite the name, the red on the belly is not often visible in the field.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Forages by searching for insects on tree trunks and major limbs. Climbs and perches among branches to pick berries and nuts, and sometimes catches flying insects in the air. Nuts and seeds taken in fall may be stored in bark crevices, eaten during winter.


Eggs

4-5, sometimes 3-8. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night and part of day), 12-14 days. Young: Are fed by both parents, and leave the nest about 22-27 days after hatching. Parents may continue to feed young for 6 weeks or more after they leave nest. 1 brood per year in north, 2-3 in south.


Young

Are fed by both parents, and leave the nest about 22-27 days after hatching. Parents may continue to feed young for 6 weeks or more after they leave nest. 1 brood per year in north, 2-3 in south.

Diet

Omnivorous. Like most woodpeckers, eats many insects. Diet may be more than 50% plant material at some seasons, including acorns and other nuts, wild and cultivated fruits, seeds. Occasional items in diet include tree frogs, eggs of small birds, oozing sap, and even small fish.


Nesting

Uses many antagonistic displays in defending territory, including spreading wings, slow floating flight, and raising head feathers. Nest site is in cavity excavated in dead wood (tree, pole, fence post, or stump), usually less than 50' above ground but can be as high as 120'. Male may begin excavating several holes, with female selecting which one is completed and used. Also may use natural cavity, abandoned hole of other woodpecker, or nest box.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Not truly migratory, wintering throughout its range. Some wander north in fall and remain through winter. Performs local movements, concentrating in areas of good food supply outside the breeding season.

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Migration

Not truly migratory, wintering throughout its range. Some wander north in fall and remain through winter. Performs local movements, concentrating in areas of good food supply outside the breeding season.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Chuck-chuck-chuck, descending in pitch. Also a loud, often repeated churrrr.

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