This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on December 7, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
I love this time of year in Florida. The birds have returned; a lot go missing for many months since they are smart enough to travel north during the times of blasted heat.
One that I see often in late fall, winter and spring is the Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus). There are a few, here and there over the summer months, but they pretty much stick to the woods where it is cooler. The name seems odd since the red on the belly isn’t all that prominent but what is visible on the head sure is. There is only a slight red wash on the belly, hardly noticeable. A lot of people think they are redheaded woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus), but those have heads that are completely red like Little Red Riding Hood, whereas the Red-bellied has a Mohawk thing going on although the front of the female’s cap is gray.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a distinctive call and I can hear them from a distant lot when they are working on their breeding cavities. They build their nest in snags and use the wood chips as the nesting material.
The males have a habit of hammering on metal to attract a mate and they are more than happy to use your rain gutters, aluminum siding, car or any other available metals so they sound like the strongest, best man for the job. I guess that is the reasoning behind calling a group of woodpeckers a “drumming”. One time they also started hammering on a wooden section of my house where the siding had blown down. I did shoo that one away!
The range for this bird is the eastern half of the U.S. from around the Great Lakes and Southern New England south to the Gulf and Florida. They can be year round residents although the northern most birds may move further south during the cold of winter.
The Red-bellied Woodpecker has an interesting flight. It dips as it flies resembling an aircraft in downdraft turbulence. To me it looks like a very bumpy ride though I didn’t see any airsickness bags to confirm that theory.
The preferred menu is insects that they glean from trees, snags and less often from the ground. You can find them looking for berries and they are happy to visit a backyard feeder. In addition, they won’t pass up fruits, vegetables, acorns, nuts or sap and you may find them hanging from a suet cake. Red-bellied Woodpeckers also may eat lizards, eggs or nestlings of other birds and small fish.
Predators include the invasive European Starling who will hijack their nesting cavity and destroy eggs.
These woodpeckers are fascinating to watch and it is worth the effort to birdscape your yard to try and attract them.