Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rare Woodpecker Seen on Christmas Count

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

It is always interesting when we find a rare species on the annual Christmas Bird Count.  Such was the case on the Mactaquac Count.  At one home where there are a lot of active feeders we found a Red-bellied Woodpecker.  There are a few reports of this species in the province this winter but not many.  We have had a few in past years but certainly one cannot count on seeing this species in any year.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a large woodpecker (22-26 cm long), slightly larger than our Hairy Woodpecker.  It is striking in appearance with red on the top of its head and down the back of its neck.  The black-and-white pattern on its back and wings is eye-catching.  The belly is white and sometimes beige in colour.  It is striking as it feeds on suet, peanut butter, and sunflower seeds  in and around your feeders.  If you are lucky enough to have one coming to your yard, you will enjoy it.  

Red-bellied Woodpecker
The range of this woodpecker is normally in the eastern US with a little overlapping just across the border into Canada from the prairie provinces, Ontario, Quebec, and into the Maritimes.  In summer it prefers open swampy woodlands but often moves to feeders in winter.  It vocalizes often with a 'chur-chur'.  

Red-bellied Woodpecker
There is a difference between the male and female of this species.  The male has the red all the way over the top of his head to the beak.  In the female the red colour stops before the beak showing a white patch between the eyes and down to the beak.  The individual at the top of this post is a female (with a bit of blush on its face); the rest are males.

The big question about this species is, 'why is it called  red 'bellied' when the red is on the head?  Well, the reason is that when they were naming the woodpeckers, we have an obviously red-headed woodpecker, another species with a completely red head.  The red-bellied actually has a red belly at some seasons.  This is evident in the photo above showing a red-bellied with a red blush over the breast; not all red but a red blush, which accounts for the name.  

I hope you are fortunate enough to see this species this winter.

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