Red-bellied Woodpecker

Melanerpes carolinus

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 2000
  • Clifford E. Shackelford, Raymond E. Brown, and Richard N. Conner

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Red-bellied Woodpecker.
Adult male Red-bellied Woodpecker

Note full extent of red on crown -- characteristic of males of this species.

This familiar, eastern U.S. woodpecker is an active and vocal species, with a preference for humid forests dominated by pines or hardwoods, or a mixture of both. It seldom excavates wood for insects; instead, depending on season, it forages opportunistically for a wide range of fruit, mast, seeds and arboreal arthropods. It is also known to take small or young vertebrate prey as well. The Red-bellied Woodpecker has expanded its range northward and westward in the latter half of the twentieth century. Most populations are resident year-round, although northern birds show some seasonal movement by retreating south during cold winters. In the southeastern United States, it is the most abundant woodpecker; in the northern half of its range, it is much less common. This woodpecker does well in urban settings, but also occurs in more remote, wilderness sites. Its generalistic foraging and nesting habits have helped in its range expansion.

Many aspects of the life history of this species have been well studied. The basis for what is known comes mainly from Bent 1939, Short 1982, and Kilham 1983a . Excellent theses on general ecology (Boone 1963, Stickel 1963b, Breitwisch 1977) and foraging (Towles 1989) exist. More specific descriptions are available regarding habitat (Williams 1975c, Conner 1980, Conner et al. 1994, Shackelford 1994, Shackelford and Conner Shackelford and Conner 1996, Shackelford and Conner 1997), breeding (Kilham Kilham 1961c, Kilham 1977c, Stickel 1965a, Jackson 1976a, Ingold Ingold 1989, Ingold 1989, Ingold 1991), hybridization (Gerber 1986, Smith 1987c), range expansion (Forsberg 1982, Haas 1987b, Maddux 1989, Jowsey 1992, Dales and Dales 1992) and foraging (Willson 1970, Gamboa and Brown 1976, Askins 1983).

The Red-bellied Woodpecker's nutrition, physiology, and short-range movements remain little studied. It does not appear to be a species of concern; much of its population is either stable or increasing.

Recommended Citation

Shackelford, C. E., R. E. Brown, and R. N. Conner (2000). Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.