Rare visit from a red-bellied woodpecker

I was sitting in my recliner drinking a coffee and watching the birdfeeders outside when suddenly I did a double take – could it be? I couldn’t believe a Red Bellied Woodpecker had finally arrived at my feeder! While I wasn’t sure at first, the strikingly bright red head and beige belly could only belong to one bird.

Red-bellied Woodpecker
PHOTOS: Ann Brokelman

I ran to get my camera (no, I don’t carry it on me ALL the time), to snap at least one good photo.  I had been waiting for this gem to arrive at my feeders for years.

At my house I have two log feeders with suet, peanut butter on top of the suet feeders and fresh peanuts in a special peanut feeder. Even with this rich buffet, he didn’t stay long. I’ll never know whether he was nervous or chased away by my regulars (six Downy and two Hairy Woodpeckers), who don’t like to share the feeders. Even when the little Chick-a-dees come to the peanut butter, the Hairy Woodpeckers give them the evil eye.

My first time ever seeing a Red-bellied Woodpecker was at my friend Jen’s house in Barry’s Bay. She had a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers who would come in daily for peanuts and suet. I would sit on her porch and wait to hear their distinctively shrill “chig-chig” calls, often heard as a rapid series of “chig chigcchchchchchcch,” as described in the Sibley Birding app. It is very loud and once you hear it you won’t forget it.

Ever since I saw them at Jen’s house I’d been hoping to get one to stop by and have a bite at my place.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) is a mid-sized woodpecker, length about 9.5 inches (24 cm), wing span about 16 inches (40 cm) with a flashing red cap and nape. They are very pale on the belly with a faint wash of red, and have a bold black-and-white-striped back.

Here are a couple of cool facts: a Red-bellied woodpecker can stick its tongue out more than 5 cm past the end of its beak! Male Red-bellied Woodpeckers have longer and wider tongues than the females. The tongue is also barbed with a sticky tip that makes it easier for them to snatch up food. Their diet consists mainly of insects, beetles, ants and grasshoppers. The oldest known Red-bellied Woodpecker is just over 12 years old.

Red-bellied woodpecker
The Red-bellied Woodpecker has a pale belly with a faint wash of red, as seen above right, and a black-and-white striped back, above.

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