Bird GuideWoodpeckersRed-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Melanerpes carolinus

At a Glance

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.
Picidae, Woodpeckers, Tree-clinging Birds
Low Concern
Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Texas, Western Canada
Flap/Glide, Undulating

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


10" (25 cm). Narrow black and white bars on back, buffy brown chest and face, bright red stripe over top and back of head (female has less red). Despite name, red on belly is usually hard to see. In flight, shows white patches on wings and rump.
About the size of a Robin
Black, Red, Tan, White
Wing Shape
Broad, Rounded, Short
Tail Shape
Multi-pointed, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

Chuck-chuck-chuck, descending in pitch. Also a loud, often repeated churrrr.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Drum, Rattle


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.



4-5, sometimes 3-8. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night and part of day), 12-14 days.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

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.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Red-bellied Woodpecker. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Red-bellied Woodpecker

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.