Friday, June 1, 2018

Red-bellied at the Marsh

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

Three things stand out to me regarding Red-bellied Woodpeckers. The first is their call. It’s a familiar sound of my childhood. Now that I live just a bit north of their territory, I don’t see or hear them anymore unless I visit my mother in Wisconsin.

Secondly, even though Red-bellied Woodpeckers have red feathers on their abdomen, they are hardly visible. So, their given name of Red-bellied Woodpecker gives me reason to scoff. Normally, I’m a fan of bird names that aid in identification, but I prefer the bygone nickname of zebra bird.1 However, no one in their right mind would know what bird I’m talking about if I were to use that old-time alias.

Lastly, there was a fascinating study done recently by Eliot Miller, Cornell Lab of Ornithology postdoctoral associate, to see which birds are the most dominating at feeders. In other words, which birds are most likely to cause others to fly away upon their approach? I hesitate to use the word bully, but in a sense, it’s appropriate. The scientific term is called successful displacement. “Oh look dear, the Red-bellied Woodpecker has successfully displaced the Blue Jay.” I’m poking fun, of course.

Anyway, when it comes to the king of feeding stations, according to 7,653 observations by a group of volunteers, the Red-bellied Woodpecker outranks all of North America’s top 13 feeder species. So, which birds does the Red-bellied Woodpecker intimidate? You might be happy to know that two pesky birds, the European Starling and House Sparrow are among those commonly displaced. Others that cry uncle are the Blue Jay, American Goldfinch, Black-capped Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Tufted Titmouse, House Finch, Northern Cardinal, and the White-breasted Nuthatch.2 To see a fun, interactive diagram, click here. Had the Red-headed Woodpecker been in the top mix of feeder species, the Red-bellied Woodpecker would’ve been the one to throw in the towel.3 


1. Pearson, T. Gilbert. Birds of America.Garden City. Garden City Publishing Company Inc., 1937, II160.
2. Haigh, Alison. “When 136 Bird Species Show Up At A Feeder, Which One Wins?” The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 1 June 2018 <>.
3. “Who is the toughest bird?” Project FeederWatch. 2017. E. T. Miller, D. N. Bonter, C. Eldermire, B. G. Freeman, E. I. Greig, L. J. Harmon, C. Lisle, W. M. Hochachka. 9 Oct. 2017. Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. 1 June 2018 <>

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