RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER – (Melanerpes carolinus)
The English name of the Red-bellied Woodpecker is somewhat of a misnomer because the red color is found mainly on its head and nape rather than on its belly. The female lacks the red crown of the male. The back, wings and tail are finely barred black and white in both sexes. The under parts, including the sides of the face and neck, are light grey. They are around 24 cm (10 in.) long.
The Latin name ‘Melanerpes’ comes from the Greek and means a ‘black creeper’. The ‘Carolinus’ part of the Latin name refers to Carolina, USA. Its overall year-round range includes not just the Carolinas in the USA, but most of the eastern half of that country.
This woodpecker is common within its normal range and can be found in various types of forests, but will also not shy from showing up in urban areas at feeders. Their diet includes insects, arthropods and other invertebrates, but they also eat seeds, berries, even small bird chicks and reptiles.
As for other woodpeckers, the red-bellied species has a tongue that can extend far outside its bill, with sticky saliva and a barbed end to allow it to seize its prey in deep tree crevices. This bird can also squeeze hard seeds into bark crevices and hammer at them until they crack open. They will also hoard food.
NOTES: As with many other woodpeckers, the red-bellied woodpecker has two forward and two backward toes, which allows better grip when climbing vertically on tree trunks. In addition, their tail feathers have stiff ends to provide more support.
Drumming: woodpeckers tap and drum on hard resounding surfaces to claim territory and attract mates, and the red-bellied species is no exception. These woodpeckers will even drum on utility poles, metal roofs, anything they can find that gives them good ‘results’. For more information on drumming please see the page ‘Interesting Behaviors’ on this website.
The red-bellied woodpecker does not breed on PEI, and its occurrence on the island varies from rare to accidental, depending on the seasons. So for a bird of that species to show up at a feeder (photo below) on the island is quite special!