Friday, February 28, 2014

At The Feeders: Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

February 28th, 2014. We installed a couple of log feeders in mid-December, 2013. Our inspiration came from a log feeder at the Ontario FeederWatch Cam sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that was visited regularly by a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). Within a few days, Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) began feeding at our logs.  

We were surprised when, on January 21st, we saw the first Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), a female, arrived at the feeder in the mid-afternoon. We didn’t see a male until February 8th although it’s possible that these woodpeckers had been coming quietly to the feeders and we hadn’t noticed them.

A female Red-bellied Woodpecker feeding at a log feeder with a male Downy Woodpecker making its way down the trunk of a tree just behind the feeder. This shows the relative sizes of these woodpeckers – 9.5 inches compared with 5.5 inches - quite nicely.

Both male and female have a barred back and wings and red caps. The red cap on the female is ‘broken’, not continuous. She has a small red patch just above the beak and a red cap from the top of the head to the base of the neck.

The male has a continous red cap.

A male feeding at the log.

They will stop feeding if disturbed. I’ve watched on remain perfectly still for five minutes before it felt safe…

to continue feeding.

These photos show how they hold onto the log with the very tips of their claws.

This bird was just starting to fly off into the woods.

I didn’t understand why this was called a Red-bellied Woodpecker until I got photos that clearly show the red patch on the belly. Usually, it’s not easy to see.

They tend to arrive and leave the feeders by a nearby tree trunk.

These woodpeckers may arrive at the feeders soon after it gets light in the morning and as late as dusk. They are very shy birds; they will fly off at the slightest disturbance compared with the Downy Woodpeckers which will stay at the feeders when most other birds fly off in alarm. 

Identification Resources:

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