Bird Watcher's General Store

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Red-Bellied Woodpeckers Becoming More Common

Dear Bird Folks,

I have a different looking woodpecker coming to my feeder. According to my bird book it’s a red-bellied woodpecker, but the bird that I keep seeing doesn’t have a red belly? Any ideas?
– Jude, Brewster


Hey Jude,

The bird that you are seeing is, indeed, a red-bellied woodpecker. And you are right, it really doesn’t have much of a red belly. The name probably came from the same bonehead who put up the sign that tells drivers to take Route 28 ‘north’ to get from Orleans to Chatham. They claim that if you hold the bird in your hand, in good light, you can see some faint pink on its belly. Well, maybe you can and maybe you can’t, but I think they screwed up the name and now are just trying to cover themselves.

How many people out there have seen a red-bellied woodpecker around here? If you have, please raise your hands and keep them raised, it will take me a few minutes to count them all. Hang on, just a few more. OK, got it. Wow, that is a lot. The red-bellied woodpecker, a southern bird, has been increasing its range into Massachusetts over the past few years. Fifteen years ago, if you announced that you had a red belly in your yard, every annoying birder in the state would be trashing your yard trying to see it. Today, news of a red belly would be met with some polite smiles and maybe even a few yawns.

Why suddenly so many? One guess is that red bellies have adapted to people. They do very well living in either deep forests or the broken-up woods of the suburbs.

They like to come to bird feeders to eat suet, peanuts and sunflower hearts, thus helping them make it through the colder winters of the north. Or perhaps redbellied woodpeckers were here all along, but no one knew it because we kept looking for the red belly or we were too busy trying to get to Chatham by driving north from Orleans.