Red-Bellied Woodpecker

M. carolinus

Last updated: October 11, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© iStock.com/Flatcoater

Red-Bellied Woodpeckers will often steal the nests of other birds.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Piciformes
Family
Picidae
Genus
Melanerpes
Scientific Name
M. carolinus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker Conservation Status

Red-Bellied Woodpecker Locations

Red-Bellied Woodpecker Locations

Red-Bellied Woodpecker Facts

Prey
Bugs
Group Behavior
  • Solitary/Pairs
Fun Fact
Red-Bellied Woodpeckers will often steal the nests of other birds.
Estimated Population Size
16 million
Biggest Threat
Predation
Most Distinctive Feature
Bright red cap
Wingspan
15-18 inches
Incubation Period
12-14 days
Age Of Independence
10 weeks
Age Of Fledgling
22-27 days
Average Spawn Size
2-6 eggs
Diet
Omnivore
Location
Eastern United States
Nesting Location
Excavated cavities in dead trees

Red-Bellied Woodpecker Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Grey
  • Red
  • Black
  • White
  • Tan
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
12.1 years in the wild
Weight
56-91 grams
Length
9-10.51 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
One year
Venomous
No
Aggression
Low

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View all of the Red-Bellied Woodpecker images!



Males and females have slightly differently shaped tongues, which may help them forage in different places.

Summary

Red-bellied woodpeckers look exactly how you would imagine them to look like. They’re medium-sized and have very obvious red bellies and caps. They’re pretty easy to see, though they are often confused with red-headed woodpeckers, a slightly rarer species. Once you learn to ID their call, it is very easy to find them.

4 Amazing Red-Bellied Woodpecker Facts

  • Nest Stealers. Red-bellied woodpeckers only like to nest in cervices. These are often in short supply, so they are known to steal the nests of other birds.
  • Long Tongues. These woodpeckers have barbed tongues and sticky spit, which makes it easy for them to catch bugs inside cervices. Males and females have slightly different tongue shapes, which helps them find food in different places.
  • Food Storage. Red-bellied woodpeckers store large nuts and similar foods into crevices for later. They will also use cracks and fence posts for storage.
  • Playful. These birds are known for their erratic flying behavior that is characterized as a type of play. You’ll often see them flying in random directions near the tops of the trees.

Red-Bellied Woodpeckers Location

These birds live year-round in forests in the eastern United States. They prefer middle-height main branches, though you can also find them on the tree trunks. Their calls are loud and frequent, which typically allows birdwatchers to find them rather easily.

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker Nests

Like most woodpeckers, the red-bellied woodpecker nests in dead trees, usually hardwoods or pines. They will usually excavate a new cavity every year. However, some woodpeckers will reuse old nests or steal holes from other species. Often, if the same tree is used, a new hole is excavated just below the old one.

Woodpeckers don’t build a traditional nest. Instead, the hole is mostly left open. However, they will lay their eggs on a bed of woodchips left over from the excavation.

Each cavity is about eight to thirteen inches deep. At the end, the living space is roughly three by five inches.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker Scientific Name

These small woodpeckers belong to the the Melanerpes genus. There are 24 species found in this genus that stretch all over the world. Most of them are quite colorful with red caps and similar features. However, some of them are simply black and white.

This genus is in the larger Picidae family, which contains all woodpeckers. Woodpeckers are found worldwide ranging from Madagascar to North America. They are a pretty populous species and clearly recognizable.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker Size, Appearance, and Behavior

Red-Bellied Woodpecker Perched on a Branch
As confusing as the red head may be, the red-bellied woodpecker does, in fact, have a red belly.

©rck_953/Shutterstock.com

These birds are mostly light gray. On their wings and back, they have a barred pattern that is common amongst birds in their genus. Adult males have a bright red cap that makes them easy to identify. Females also have a red patch on their nap and above their bill.

While this bird does have a slight red coloration on their belly, this is difficult to see in observation. These birds are around nine to eleven inches long and have a wingspan of 15 to 18 inches. They weigh around 56 to 91 grams.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker Diet

The red-bellied woodpecker is a forager at heart. They are very opportunistic eaters, which means that they will eat just about anything edible that comes their way. Usually, they use their bill to chisel into cracks or probe existing cracks. Their tongue allows them to pull out beetles and other insects from trees.

What Does the Red-Bellied Woodpecker Eat?

Like many woodpeckers, they will also hide food in trees to eat for later. In this way, they prepare for winter and times of little food.

Most of the time, these birds forage in dead or dying trees. Some birds spend over 60% of their foraging time at dead trees, in fact. While they can poke new holes in trees to find bugs, they largely use existing holes. They are often a major predator of insects that prey on trees, including the emerald ash borer and other invasive species.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker Predators and Threats

What Eats the Red-Bellied Woodpecker?

Major predators of adult red-bellied woodpeckers include birds of prey, such as Cooper’s hawks. However, they are also preyed upon by black rat snakes and house cats.

Nestlings and eggs have a larger list of predators, including owls, other woodpeckers, squirrels, and rat snakes.

When a predator approaches, these animals hide from the predator or harass it with alarm calls. They will defend their nest aggressively from predators. Often, they will directly attack predators that come near their nests.

Reproduction, Young, and Molting

Red-bellied woodpecker and young
Red-bellied woodpeckers make their nest in a hole they make in a dead or decaying tree.

©FloridaStock/Shutterstock.com

In the spring, red-bellied woodpeckers begin breeding activities. Usually, these involve drumming and vocal sounds to attract a mate. Courtship will often occur until the end of the breeding season. These birds are known for monogamous relationships.

Once mating occurs, the male initiates the process of nesting. A dead or decaying tree much be located. The male will then begin to make a hole, which the female accepts by taking part in mutual tapping.

The birds then excavate a hole together. The female will often complete the hole and then enter it to lay eggs. Because dead trees are necessary, their breeding can be impacted by cutting down dead trees in an area.

The juvenile birds stay in the nest for 24 to 26 days. After that, the birds spend about 27 weeks in the area after fledging. Often, the birds will return to the area they were born to reproduce, though they will also account for food availability and predation issues.

Population

The red-bellied woodpecker is pretty populous. In fact, their population is thought to be increasing by about 0.8% each year. Therefore, they are considered in the Least Concerned category. Their estimated breeding population is 16 million.

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are red-bellied woodpeckers rare?

Red-bellied woodpeckers are considered to be in the Least Concern category, which means that they are not particularly endangered. They are commonly found throughout the eastern half of the United States. However, they are most common in the southern states.

What is the difference between a male and female red-bellied woodpecker?

Males have a red cape that reaches down to the beak and to the nape of the neck. However, females only have red on the back of their neck. Therefore, males have more red on their face than females do.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. The Cornell Lab All About Birds, Available here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-bellied_Woodpecker/lifehistory
  2. Audubon, Available here: https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/red-bellied-woodpecker
  3. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red-bellied_woodpecker

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