You must look closely to see the red belly on one of these woodpeckers. As a child growing up in New Jersey I had little hope of ever encountering a Red-bellied Woodpecker. They were birds of the south, although they had been seen uncommonly in the area of Long Island around the middle of the nineteenth century. One showed up in Central Park, New York in 1909, and there were only four other records in the greater New York/New Jersey area through 1940.
For some unknown reason they started returning in the in the late 1950s, reaching my area of northern New Jersey only a few years after I left for good when I got drafted into the service in 1966. Now they are abundant all over the Garden State, as they are in our present home in south Florida.
They are handsome birds. The male has a conspicuous red area on the top of his head that extends from nape to forehead.
Sometimes you can even see his red "belly."
This male is visiting a feeder at National Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
They are gregarious, often seen in small family groups and more often heard than seen, as this homeowner will attest as one drums loudly on the rain gutter.
The red area on the female's head is limited to the nape.
Here a pair explores the top of a dead Royal Palm in our neighborhood wetlands.
I came upon this one while he was sunbathing. As I watched he started scratching and then rubbing his head against a branch before flying off.
The related Golden-fronted Woodpecker ranges from Texas down into Mexico. The two species overlap in central Texas. This one visited a feeder in Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle. It is a particularly beautiful bird.
A third similar species, the Gila Woodpecker, is restricted to the arid southwestern US-- southern Arizona and extreme southern California. It looks like a drab version of the Red-bellied. The red is confined to a small patch atop the head of the male. I photographed this one in the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson.
The Gila Woodpecker favors Saguaro Cactus, in which they excavate unique cavities in the spiny plant's soft wet pulp. They must wait several months for the walls to dry into a durable hard enclosure.