An unexpected seed-eater

Ever since I put up a new bird feeder (with a mix guaranteed to attract all sorts of seed-eating birds), I have had an unusual visitor several times a day, a female Red-bellied Woodpecker.   How do I know it’s a female?  The orangey-red color extends from the neck over the crown to the top of the bill in the male.

It looks like it should have been named Red-headed, but there is another woodpecker whose scarlet feathers cover its entire head and neck more deserving of that title.  Instead, the name for this bird comes from the faint tinge of red on its lower abdomen, which you can just barely see in the photo below.

I have never seen more than just the back of the bird, except this one time, when it briefly posed above the feeder.  She seems to prefer sunflower seeds, and although there are a lot of them in the seed mix, it takes a couple of minutes for her to find just the right seed, and sometimes she sticks her whole head into the feeding slot between the bars of the supposed squirrel-protection cage, twisting her head back and forth, to coax the recalcitrant seed out.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are an eastern species, year-round residents throughout their range from southern Canada to Florida.  They are highly insectivorous in the summer, catching insects on the fly, as well as grabbing them off the bark of the deciduous forest trees where they live.  But like good oppportunists, they eat what is available, and will take fruit, nuts, and apparently seeds from a feeder when insects are in short supply.

I hear their throaty, chirpy, b-r-r-r-t  trill often in the winter, but have never seen them at my feeders.  This species has extended its range northward and westward in the past 100 years, and populations are on the rise.  I hope to see more of the female and her boyfriend this winter.

3 thoughts on “An unexpected seed-eater

  1. Nice shots. The only woodpeckers I’ve seen have been downy woodpeckers, who also have red on their heads. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a red-bellied one. They are very striking.

  2. Sue, the red-bellieds are constant visitors to my feeders, all year long. The downies will swoop in once in a while, but the red-bellieds love every kind of seed I put out. And they are just about the dominant bird to visit my feeder. Everybody else gives that long, sharp bill lots of respect. Great pictures. BTW, in breeding season, the male’s belly fairly glows with a much stronger red wash, so it is easier to see then where the name comes from.

    • Interesting! Yeah, that bill looks like a potential threat to other visitors to the feeder. What is interesting about this species (to me) is their ability to utilize all kinds of food resources. My physiologist background tells me this means they have a highly adaptable gut. In comparison, humans feel ill when switching from largely meat to largely vegetarian diets (or vice versa).

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