Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Red Bellied

The native American "Red-bellied Woodpecker" (female) Melanerpes carolinus

Since this latest snow and single digit temperatures, we've had more birds at our feeders than ever before.  No new varieties, but, certainly a larger quantity. 

I'm feeding a different mixture this year and that might be the big draw - or the cold - or the ground cover - or I've no idea.  I do know I enjoy the entertainment. 

Usually, I feed shelled sunflower seeds and when it gets really nasty, I put out my homemade suet blocks.  I normally buy shelled corn for the squirrels.  We have a small population and don't attract from an area outside our woods.  The dogs keep them thinned to only the most wily.

I have a feeder just for squirrels and this year it had to be moved because the pole had rotted.  We moved it under the big walnut and closer to the house but still far enough away to encourage them to stay away from the bird feeders by my window.  (My vain hope only.)  This year I'm mixing ground corn and a small amount of sunflower seeds in hopes they are fooled into thinking they have the best place. 

I'd forgotten some of the larger birds like ground corn.  Blue jays, doves, cardinals plus a few of the smaller ones have frequented the corn.  Normally, these larger birds, including the woodpeckers, wait until all available insects are gone before hitting the feeders.  This year they have been steady at them for about three weeks.  I'm sure there's an old weatherman/farmer theory that goes with this event.

The birds are not yet used to me on the other side of the window and it's difficult to photograph them without the smallest sound or movement sending them to flight. 

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a medium sized 9-10 inches.  Wingspan is 15-18 inches.  It's a year-round resident of this area along with the Red-headed Woodpecker, Northern Flicker "Woodpecker", Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker and perhaps the Pileated Woodpecker.

Although it doesn't show in the above photo, it has a small area near the bottom of it's breast that is brushed with red.  The female, above, doesn't have the red over the crown like the male.  Both are barred black and white above.

This woodpecker is common in open woodlands, suburbs, swamps and parks.  They will not stay in an area that doesn't have old large trees. 

They are very common in the South but have expanded their breeding range northward in recent decades.  The female lays 4 or 5 white eggs in a tree cavity, often at the edge of woodlands.  It takes about 7 days for both sexes to excavate the tree cavities used for nests.   The cavity is lined with wood chips and is about a foot deep. It is usually built in a dead or dying tree. Both the male and female incubate the eggs and care for the young. The male incubates at night. The chicks hatch in about three weeks and they fledge in about a month. The chicks usually stay with their parents until the fall.

Woodpeckers are important nest providers for many other species. The holes they excavate in dead trees, poles, and fence posts are used by bluebirds, wrens, chickadees, and titmice to name just a few. It is important for many bird and animal species that we leave dead trees whenever it's safe to do so!

They're very beneficial because they consume large numbers of wood-boring beetles, grasshoppers, ants, and other insect pests.  It also feeds on acorns, beechnuts, peanuts and wild fruits.  Look for Red-bellied Woodpeckers hitching along branches and trunks of medium to large trees, picking at the bark surface more often than drilling into it.  It habitually stores food.  

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is not considered endangered.  The species is protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

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