Beak of the Week – Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

Family: Picidae

Greg Lavaty
Greg Lavaty

The Red-bellied Woodpecker’s name is a bit misleading as the red patch on its lower abdomen is difficult to see in the field. This sleek, medium-sized woodpecker has a black-and-white barred back, red nape, and white patches speckled with black on its rump and tail feathers. The red nape extends to the forehead on adult male birds.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker forages in trees, on the ground, and occasionally on the wing. It consumes mostly insects, seeds, nuts and fruit, but may also eat tree sap, small amphibians, bird eggs, and small fish. A Red-bellied Woodpecker can stick out its tongue nearly 2 inches past the end of its beak. The tip is barbed and the bird’s spit is sticky, making it easier to snatch prey from deep crevices. Males have longer, wider-tipped tongues than females, possibly allowing a breeding pair to forage in slightly different places on their territory and maximize their use of available food.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are common in all seasons and may be found wherever there are mature trees. They rely on tall soft trees such as pines to excavate their nest cavities. Converting dead or dangerous trees in your yard to snags (20 feet or higher) invites Red-bellied Woodpeckers to use them for cavities. Another way to make your yard more inviting is to provide sunflower seed or suet at feeders.

 Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds! 

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