September 2014 Bird Photo of the Month

Flashing red © Danny Bales
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

Ornithologists and native peoples usually name birds for an outstanding feature. Have you ever wondered why the Red-bellied Woodpecker is called red-bellied when that feature is not obvious? We see Florida’s most common woodpecker as it is climbing a palm tree, telephone pole, or on our backyard feeder eating seeds, nuts or fruits. We usually first notice the barred black-and-white back and wings, and the red on its nape (the back of the head) if it is female. The red extends onto the crown of the male. The breast, sides and flanks are gray-beige.

To see the belly of this bird is difficult as it is often pressed against a tree, but this photograph of a female by Danny Bales with his EOS Canon 40D and 100/400 telephoto, f13 – 260 mm – 1/250 shutter speed – ISO 500 + Flash, reveals the red belly, and the bird’s magnificent, fully extended feathers and gray-and-white patterned underwings. The red belly is a characteristic unique to this species, found in both sexes. During springtime breeding, red areas become more intense, especially the belly, and the face, throat, and breast become tinged with red in males. surely very attractive in luring a mate.

This woodpecker does not migrate, and is found year-round in our urban and natural areas. Like most Woodpeckers, it flies with gracefully undulating dips. With its strong bill, it can defend against nest robbers and predators like hawks, owls, snakes, and housecats.

Yes, this is a noisy woodpecker, with its kwirr calls, and likely the bird that drums on your metal roof, fixtures, gutters or drain pipes. This loud racket alerts all to his presence, the object to attract a female in springtime. Drumming occurs at other times of year to signal its territory, but not to wake you up!

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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