Saturday, April 26, 2014

This week's Crops & Clips: Red-bellied Woodpecker

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.  

Red-bellied Woodpecker Male 20090107

Sometimes you can even see his red "belly."

Red-bellied Woodpecker 2-20110916

This male is visiting a feeder at National Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

Red-bellied Woodpecker 20130310

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.

Red-bellied Woodpecker drumming 20140301

The red area on the female's head is limited to the nape.

Red-bellied Woodpecker 20121014

Here a pair explores the top of a dead Royal Palm in our neighborhood wetlands.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers 20131118

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.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Rubbing 20081231

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.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker 2-20111112

Golden-fronted Woodpecker close 20111112

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.

Gila Woodpecker 20130614 - Copy

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.

Gila Woodpecker 3-20130614 - Copy


  1. we get lots of red-bellied here. i love them. those last two are awesome! we don't get those types in this part of texas.

  2. Brilliant photography Ken! I haven't any of these! The Golden-fronted is spectacular!

  3. HI Kenneth These Woodpeckers are wonderful and your photography is stunning. it is lovely to be able to see them up close and to see all the details. They are really beautiful, Have a great weekend

  4. What tremendous beautiful. I especially like the pose you managed to capture through the lens where it's rubbing against the bark of the tree branch!!

  5. WOW! Great photos! I can never get clear shots of these birds.

  6. I didn't know there were so many varieties. We have lots of red-bellied around here. Love woodpeckers! Nice shots!

  7. Beautiful woodpeckers! I saw a Black Woodpecker this week, but I didn't get any photos of it.

  8. I love our red-bellied family. We had one in Texas and now in Louisiana who are residents. It's one of the first birds that got me into birding. I did not know the glia and golden-fronted were so closely related. Enough rambling...your photos are absolutely brilliant! Each one in a different pose or location. Very nice.

  9. Wonderful images of a stunning little bird...

  10. Great photos and beautiful birds. It's very interesting to see the three related species up close. I think the Golden-fronted bird is the most beautiful!

  11. Great series on the woodpeckers.. Gorgeous photos!

  12. Amazing shots of wood pecker.

  13. Fantastic images as always Ken!

    PS...have a safe trip to AZ and sorry for your family's loss!!

  14. A lovely collection of 'peckers Ken, great shots one and all. You certainly have your share of the world's colourful ones in North America.

  15. Great birds - I managed to get a brief glimpse of a Gila WP when i was in AZ - not pictures though. Shame.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne


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