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Backyard birding

A female red-bellied woodpecker samples sunflower seeds. This type of woodpecker routinely stores food.

March 16, 2011

The rewards of backyard bird feeding are many. While I frequently see chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, juncos, goldfinches and nuthatches just outside my kitchen door, a new visitor showed up sporadically this winter to take advantage of the black oil sunflower seeds offered there.

The female red-bellied woodpecker depicted in the thumbnail photo at left, above, (click for larger version) found the swampy hemlock grove next to my home to her liking. While more common to the south, this medium-sized round-headed bird has been increasing its breeding range northward over the past several decades.

The black and white-striped back is topped with a brilliant red nape (the area at the back of the head). Males also bear bright red caps at the crown. Both are beneficial consumers of wood-boring beetles and other insects.

These birds nest in dead hardwoods or pines and stash food in cracks in trees for later consumption. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this woodpecker can stick out its tongue nearly two inches past the end of its beak. The barbed tip and sticky saliva increase the bird’s success in obtaining food from crevices.

Visit to learn more and to hear a sound sample of the red-bellied woodpecker’s voice and drilling rattle.