Red-bellied Woodpecker

Melanerpes carolinus

Year-round Resident
Has Nested in Park

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are year-round residents who have nested at Monticello Park.

Where to See Them in the Park

Along with the Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpeckers are the most common woodpecker species at Monticello. They can be seen in any part of the park. They often vocalize when foraging, which makes them fairly easy to locate. Sometimes, they have nested in trees that can be seen from the bridge.

Physical Description

Red-bellied Woodpecker Males
Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Red-bellied Woodpecker Males
Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Red-bellied Woodpecker Males
Males - Photo by Michael Pollack

Male Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a black-and-white ladder back. The crown and nape are red, which is why some people mistakenly call them Red-headed Woodpeckers. Their belly is white with an orange patch in the middle. Because woodpeckers generally have their belly against a tree, the orange patch can be difficult to see in the field. In flight, they show white crescents near the ends of their wings, which is an important fieldmark. The spiky central tail feathers help them to anchor their bodies when foraging on a tree. Their tail and two strong legs function like a tripod. During the breeding season, you sometimes see males having aggressive encounters. They fly like most other woodpecker species, mixing flaps with glides.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Female
Female - Photo by Ashley Bradford

The female looks similar to the male. She has a red nape, but no red on her crown. Red-bellied Woodpeckers have zygodactyl feet, as do all species of woodpeckers. Two toes point forward and two point back. Most bird species have four toes, with three pointing forward and one back. The zygodactyl arrangement helps woodpeckers to hold onto trees more effectively.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Males
Adult in flight - Photo by Ashley Bradford

When they fly, you sometimes can more easily see the orange (red) belly that is the basis for their name.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Juvenile
Juvenile - Photo by Michael Pollack

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are cavity nesters. They raise 1 to 3 broods each year, and the female lays 2 to 6 eggs in each brood. The eggs are incubated for 12 days, and the young stay in the nest hole for 24 to 27 days.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Juvenile
Juvenile - Photo by Michael Pollack

When the young birds leave the nest, their head and neck is mostly gray, with only a little bit of red feathering like the adults.


The call of the Red-bellied Woodpecker is a loud harsh churr, often repeated a few times. They also have a loud char vocalization, which they repeat numerous times.

Hear the vocalizations and sounds of the Red-bellied Woodpecker.


Red-bellied Woodpecker Deformed Bill
Deformed Bill - Photo by Michael Pollack

Birds sometimes are born with faulty genes that result in plumage abnormalities or physical deformities. Birds with bill deformities, such as this Red-bellied Woodpecker with the extremely long upper mandible, are rarely seen, because they usually do not survive long enough for people to see them.

Origin of Names

Common Names: Red-bellied from the orange feathers on the belly. Woodpecker because they peck wood.
Genus Name: Melanerpes means "black creeper".
Species Name: Carolinus means "of Carolina", which used to be a loose term for the South.

Red-bellied Woodpecker video footage

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