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Red-bellied Woodpecker

Melanerpes carolinus

Length: 9 - 10 inches Wingspan: 15 - 18 inches Seasonality: All Seasons
ID Keys: Red stripe on back of head, black and white barring on back.  Red-washed  belly usually very hard to see.

Red-bellied Woodpecker - Melanerpes carolinusThe Red-bellied Woodpecker is an often noisy bird that has adapted to living in residential areas and parks.  Despite the name, it's usually very difficult to see the reddish wash on the belly.  The red stripe on it's head is a much more obvious identification feature. The red on the head extends all the way from the forehead to nape on males, while the females only have red on the nape.


Floodplain forests, woodlands, groves, orchards, towns.


Omnivorous.  Eats many insects, but plant material may make up half the diet in some seasons. 


Foraging primarily occurs while climbing on tree trunks and branches in search of insects.  They will also fly out from perches to catch insects in flight.  During parts of the near, seeds, nuts, and fruit can make up a significant portion of the diet.  They nest in cavities, often competing for the same nesting cavities as non-native species such as the European Starling.


May and June.  The nest of a Red-bellied Woodpecker is a cavity they themselves excavate in a tree, or sometimes in a man-made object like a fence post or telephone pole.  The female usually lays 4 or 5 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  When the eggs hatch, both parents help to feed the young.  The young fledge after 3 or 4 weeks, but typically remain near the parents for several weeks after fledging.

Song / Vocalizations:

Often very vocal birds, Red-bellied Woodpeckers have multiple calls, including a rattling call from the males and hoarse, raspy contact calls. Their drumming is also a commonly heard sound where they are present.

1Click here to hear short single-note calls of a male Red-bellied Woodpecker

2Click hear to hear the rattling, rolling calls of a Red-bellied Woodpecker

3Click here to hear the drumming of a Red-bellied Woodpecker


Not migratory, although some wander in the fall, especially juveniles.

Interactive eBird Map:

 Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Red-bellied Woodpecker sightings

Similar Species:

With the strong ladder-backed pattern, larger size than many woodpeckers, and distinctive red crest, the Red-bellied Woodpecker is unlikely to be confused with another species if seen within the borders of South Dakota. Outside of the state, they  may be confused with the following (in the proper ranges):


Nuts, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, and suet

Conservation Status:

Seems to be increasing and extending it's range to the north.  However, it has undoubtedly suffered in some areas due to competition with European Starlings for nesting sites.  The IUCN currently lists the Red-bellied Woodpecker as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

 1) National Geographic - Red-bellied Woodpecker

2) WhatBird - Red-bellied Woodpecker

3) Audubon Guide-  Red-bellied Woodpecker

Photo Information: November 30th, 2007 - Big Sioux Recreation Area near Brandon, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Red-bellied Woodpecker photos.

Audio File Credits:

1Will Sweet. Recorded in Barnstable County, Massachusetts on January 29th, 2020. Original file and information from xeno-canto.

2Eric DeFonso. Recorded in Riley County, Kansas on May 12th, 2017. Original file and information from xeno-canto.

3Jim Berry. Recorded in Chautauqua County, New York on April 23rd, 2016. Original file and information from xeno-canto.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Red-bellied Woodpecker - Melanerpes carolinus - Range map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon permanent resident in the eastern half of the state, casual in the west.

Additional Red-bellied Woodpecker Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos 
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 2 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 3 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 4 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 5 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 6 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 7 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 8 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 9 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 10 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 11 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 12 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 13 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 15 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 15 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 16 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 17 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 18 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 19 - Melanerpes carolinusRed-bellied Woodpecker 20 - Melanerpes carolinus