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Female Red-bellied Woodpecker

Abhijit Naik
If you happen to reside in the United States (or Canada), the description of female red-bellied woodpecker will help you in your birding escapades.
The sighting of a red-bellied woodpecker in northeastern United States or southern Canada is not rare. Going by its appearance, the name may seem inappropriate, as the red plumage resembling a cap on its head is a lot brighter than that on its belly.
However, the name red-headed woodpecker is assigned to another species―the Melanerpes erythrocephalus, which has bright red plumage covering its entire head.

An Introduction

Red-bellied woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) are medium-sized woodpeckers predominantly found in North America. Being omnivorous in nature, they feed on insects, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Though they mostly rely on arthropods on tree trunks, their ability of catching insects in flight is unquestionable. They communicate with each other by drumming or tapping on trees trunks as well as aluminum roofs and transformer boxes (in urban settings). The habit of drumming (tapping) is much more prominent in males as compared to females.

Female Woodpecker


Measuring approximately 9 - 10.5 inches, the female red-bellied woodpecker looks a lot like the male, with the only thing distinguishing the two being the gray crown that the female sports. It has a black tail with striped black and white feathers.
The same pattern of black and white stripes is seen on its back. It has a prominent red nape, while the area surrounding the base of its bill is light reddish in color. The red belly, which is a characteristic trait of this species, is concealed by gray plumage on its underside, and is not easily visible when the bird is in flight.

Behavior: Mating and Nesting

After mating, the male and female build a nest on a dead or dying tree at a height of around five to seventy feet. The nest is basically a foot-long cavity, lined up with wooden chips.
The female lays around 3 - 8 eggs in the nest. Both take turns in guarding the nest. Around two weeks later, when the eggs hatch, the parents take turns in guarding and getting food for the young ones. In this manner, the female plays an equally important role in raising a family with its male counterpart.
The predators of this woodpecker species include birds like the Cooper's hawk in the air, and black rat snakes and house cats on trees. Though small, these species―especially the female woodpeckers―defend their nests aggressively without hesitating to take on predators that are relatively bigger in size.
As far as their population is concerned, red-bellied woodpeckers are enlisted as 'Least Concern' species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Due to their highly adaptive nature, this species was restricted to northeast United States at one point of time, has now been successful in extending its territory further north in Canada.