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A photo of a Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), male
Red-bellied Woodpecker, Male

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Melanerpes carolinus

The red-bellied woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, is a medium-sized member of the Picidae family, notable for its striking plumage. Despite its name, the most prominent colors on this bird are not on its belly, but rather the vivid orange-red crown and nape. The bird's back is barred with black and white, and the belly has a subtle reddish blush that is often difficult to discern in the field.

Identification Tips

Adult males can be identified by their red cap, which extends from the bill to the nape, while females feature a red patch only on the nape and above the bill. Both sexes exhibit a light gray face and underparts, with barred patterns on their back, wings, and tail. They measure between 22.85 to 26.7 cm in length, with a wingspan of 38 to 46 cm, and weigh between 56–91 grams.


The red-bellied woodpecker favors deciduous forests for its habitat, often nesting in decayed cavities of dead trees or in live trees with softer wood such as elms, maples, or willows.


This species breeds primarily in the eastern United States, with its range extending from Florida to Canada.


These woodpeckers are known for their arthropod hunting on tree trunks and sometimes catching insects mid-flight. They are also omnivorous, consuming fruits, nuts, and seeds. They mark territories around their nesting sites with drilling holes and are known to be monogamous, showing high site fidelity.

Song & Calls

Red-bellied woodpeckers are vocal birds with a repertoire of calls including a churr-churr-churr or thrraa-thrraa-thrraa, and a drumming sound resembling six taps. Males are more vocal, especially during mating season, and both sexes use drumming as a communication tool. Juveniles emit a high-pitched begging call of pree-pree-pree.


Breeding activities begin in early May, with drumming patterns and vocal signals playing a crucial role in mate attraction and communication. Nesting occurs once per year, with both sexes participating in the excavation of nest holes. Juveniles fledge at around 24 to 26 days old and may remain in their natal area for several weeks post-fledging.

Diet and Feeding

The red-bellied woodpecker forages by drilling into tree bark or probing cracks to extract insects, particularly beetles. They also store food behind bark or in tree cracks. They play a significant role in controlling invasive species such as the emerald ash borer.

Conservation status

The IUCN lists the red-bellied woodpecker as Least Concern. However, the species relies on large trees for nesting, and deforestation can impact their numbers in certain areas. They are adaptable to some extent, utilizing gardens when necessary, but generally require forested habitats to thrive.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Sounds

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Red-bellied Woodpeckers on Birda


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Blythipicus pyrrhotis
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