Opinion Column

Birdwatch: Red-bellied Woodpeckers spotted in the area

Ken Hooles

By Ken Hooles, Daily Observer

Paul Reeves Photography/Getty images: 
Male Red-bellied Woodpecker perched on a rotting fence post. Ken Hooles has recently received reports of Red-bellied Woodpeckers in the area.

Paul Reeves Photography/Getty images: Male Red-bellied Woodpecker perched on a rotting fence post. Ken Hooles has recently received reports of Red-bellied Woodpeckers in the area.


Back on Jan. 21, Gerald Rollins of the Cobden area informed me that he has had two Red-bellied Woodpeckers at his bird feeder since April 2017. A few days later, Rob Cunningham and I were very pleased to observe both of the woodpeckers, thanks to Gerald’s kind invitation. Amazingly, Gerald also informed me that there may be a third, smaller Red-bellied Woodpecker. The presence of a third Red-bellied Woodpecker suggests that we may have had our first known breeding pair for our area.


In addition to Gerald’s Red-bellied Woodpeckers, another one was confirmed recently on Calumet Island. While still considered a rare bird sighting for our area, Red-bellied reports have gradually increased annually over the past decade. This suggests that the Red-bellied Woodpeckers are gradually extending their range north, very much like some other bird species. Some naturalists think that these woodpeckers may be following the progression north of the ash borer insect that are destroying ash trees all over Ontario.

Perhaps one day, the Red-bellied Woodpecker will be as common as our Cardinals are today. In order to help you identify this bird, I have repeated part of my article on the Red-bellied Woodpecker from 2016. If you have one of these birds at your feeder please let me know.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) is a woodpecker from the eastern United States. It is quite adaptable, and can commonly be found in the states in southern pine forests, northern hardwood forests, scattered trees, and even urban parks.

It is easily identified by its zebra-like barring on its back and its red crown and nape; it has a white rump seen in flight and a pale greyish face and chin. It gets its name from the slight reddish colouring on its chest that is not easily seen or visible unless examined closely.

This woodpecker tends to be very noisy and likes to do a lot of drumming on trees, especially during breeding season. It enjoys a large variety of foods, which allows it to fit into many environments. It eats insects, berries, vegetables, seeds, and even sap from sapsucker holes.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a solitary nester. In its northern range, it has only one brood per year; however, those in the southern warmer climates tend to have two or three broods per year.

This bird likes to build its nest in a cavity of a tree, anywhere from 1.5 to 21 metres above the ground. The nest site is built by both sexes, and both male and female woodpeckers take turns incubating their eggs for between 11 and 14 days. The young woodpeckers are fed by both sexes and remain in the nest for another 22 to 27 days.

This American woodpecker can be found from south of the Great Lakes to the tip of Florida. It is gradually extending its range into southern Quebec and Ontario. At the moment, it is still quite a rare bird for Renfrew County.

On the local scene, the bird activity for many of us remains quite slow at our feeders, although I have seen a few exceptions around the county. Besides our normal winter birds, there are several flocks of Snow Buntings, some small groups of Horned Larks, Dark-eyed Juncos, Red and White-winged Crossbills, American Tree Sparrows and a few sightings of Purple Finch. There is the odd report of Northern Shrike and only one report of Snowy Owl. For some odd reason, we still are lacking several of the northern migrants. We have no Bohemian Waxwings, Pine Siskin, Evening and Pine Grosbeaks and only one report of a lone Common Redpoll. Interestingly, I finally found an overwintering summer bird, a Robin, in the Lake Dore area. I would be interested to hear if there are any other summer birds still around, though I doubt it with the extreme cold that we have experienced.

On Jan. 22, Vince Agnesi of Sheenboro spotted a Red-bellied Woodpecker at a house on Calumet Island. In addition, he was also pleased to locate both Red and White-winged Crossbills in his area. Nice finds Vince!

Finally, on Jan. 25, Al Gutz of Green Lake Road informed me that he had several Red-breasted Nuthatches and a couple of Purple Finches at his feeder. Similarly Rob Cunningham of Barron Canyon Road also had a couple of Purple Finch at his bird feeder.

Please call me with your bird sightings and feeder reports at 613-735-4430 or e-mail me at hooles@bell.net. For more information on nature sites and upcoming nature events, just Google the Pembroke Area Field Naturalists or like us on Facebook.

Featured Businesses

Go to the Marketplace »