Don’t Be Fooled By the Red-bellied Woodpecker’s Name

To identify this bird, look to its head.

This story is brought to you by BirdNote, a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.

As woodpeckers go, they’re bold and conspicuous, thriving even in backyards and city parks east of the Mississippi. And Red-bellied Woodpeckers are unabashedly vocal—some might even say noisy.

The Red-bellied is a good-sized woodpecker, more than nine inches tall. Sleek and handsome, its back is crisply barred, zebra-like, in black and white; its underside glows a warm buff. And the male sports a scarlet crown and nape.

Like most woodpeckers, Red-bellieds eat lots of insects. But they also like nuts, berries, and seeds. They can be attracted to backyards with suet cakes, berry bushes, or even a cut orange tacked to a tree trunk, so they can enjoy the pulp and juice.

But the Red-bellied Woodpecker retains one element of mystery: its name. Why call it “red-bellied”? Whoever first named the species must have had a wry sense of humor. For, on this strikingly patterned bird, the last thing you would likely notice is a slight blush of rose on its lower belly.

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Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Rolling “churr” call of Red-bellied Woodpecker recorded by G.A. Keller; “chatter-chi” call recorded by M. Fischer; drumming recorded by D. Stemple. Ambient drawn from recorded by M. Fischer.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
Written by Bob Sundstrom

© 2016 Tune In to     March 2014/2016     Narrator: Mary McCann