April 7, 2011

New England woodpeckers and laughers continued—the Red-bellied woodpecker

The misnamed Red-"bellied" woodpecker is an increasingly common New England feeder bird. The red of its belly is only visible upon close inspection, a relic of the “bird in hand” days of ornithology before binoculars. 

The red that does pop out from this bird is the shining red that laces up the nape of the neck and onto the crown of the males. Overall tan, with a black and white back, the Red-bellied woodpecker used to be found in the more southerly states but has expanded its range slowly northwards and now spends the winter in New England, hanging from suet feeders and chasing about bare limbs. The Red-bellied woodpecker is similar in size and shape to the Northern flicker that returns to central and northern New England in early April but can be separated by the lack of facial markings and belly pattern.

Red-bellied woodpeckers make a wonderful “purring” call from the upper branches of trees. Listen for this funny noise and watch for the round head, bounding flight, and flash of bright red of these woodpeckers. 

Interested in other New England woodpeckers? Read more on the Pileated woodpecker or the subtle difference between the Downy and Hairy.

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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