This is a series of articles about the birds that visit my backyard feeders and that are seen around my yard this winter. Please share any photographs or observations from your feeders with us on the Friends website (www.friendsebec.com) by emailing them to friends.ebec@gmail.com.

The Red-bellied woodpecker is stunning with its bright red head, black and white back and creamy undersides. Combined with its large size and big prominent black bill, it is sure to turn heads when it shows up at the feeder. No matter how many times they visit my feeder I am always captivated by them. But why call it Red-bellied and not Red-headed which seems so much more appropriate? The answer lies on the belly. It actually has a red belly, but it can't be easily seen unless the bird is hanging from the feeder. Male Red-bellied woodpeckers can be told from females by the red cap on the head. In males it covers nearly the entire head, in females just the back of the head. 

We also have a Red-headed woodpecker in New Jersey, but it is one of our threatened species and is not apt to visit feeders. It's also not expected in East Brunswick, so if you are lucky enough to find one, please let us know.

The Red-bellied woodpecker is a common year-round resident in East Brunswick and is easily attracted to suet or sunflower seeds in yards where there are lots of big trees. Like our other woodpeckers, they nest in dead trees or dead branches in living trees. They excavate their own nest hole using their powerful beak to open a deep hole in the dead wood. Like many of our other woodland birds, since they are dependent on dead wood for their nests, it is important to leave some around for them.

During the spring breeding season and in the summer, Red-bellied woodpeckers are easily "found" by their call. Despite the big bright red head they can sometimes be difficult to locate as they sit high up in a tree giving the call over and over again. I can imitate the call, but describing it is another thing all together. So, here is a description from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology "The Red-bellied woodpecker’s most common call is a shrill, rolling kwirr or churr given by both sexes." It's an easy call to learn and once you know it, you can easily follow the sound and track them down. Since the call is often given near the nest hole, it is also an easy way to find out where they are nesting. With some patient searching with binoculars, the nest hole can often be found.

Red-bellied woodpeckers can be found in all of our wooded parks. Use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find some places to look for them. The Guide is available at: http://www.friendsebec.com/parks. (Look for a brand new park to be added to the Guide shortly).   

For more information about Red-bellied woodpeckers visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/red-bellied_woodpecker/id/ac ;

Puplished on the East Brusnwick Patch, January 14 2012

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