Red-Headed vs. Red-Bellied Woodpecker: An Introduction
For bird watchers, spotting a woodpecker is always a treat. Among the various species of woodpeckers, the red-headed and red-bellied woodpeckers are two of the most common and easily recognizable species. However, even though they may look similar at first glance, these two species have many differences that set them apart. In this article, we will be examining the physical characteristics, habitat, distribution, and behavior of the red-headed and red-bellied woodpeckers to help you distinguish between the two.
Physical Characteristics of the Red-Headed Woodpecker
The red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) is a medium-sized bird that measures around 7.5 to 9 inches in length and weighs around 2.5 to 3.5 ounces. True to its name, the bird has a bright red head, neck, and throat, while its back and wings are black with white patches. The underparts of the bird are pure white.
One important feature of the red-headed woodpecker is its bill, which is quite thick and chisel-like, ideal for drilling into wood. The bird’s feet are also adapted for clinging to vertical surfaces, with two toes pointed forward and two toes pointed backward.
Physical Characteristics of the Red-Bellied Woodpecker
The red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) is another medium-sized bird that measures around 9 to 10 inches in length and weighs around 2.5 to 3.5 ounces. The bird has a black and white striped back, with a red cap on its head. However, despite its name, the bird’s belly is not actually red, but rather a pale pink or beige color.
Like the red-headed woodpecker, the red-bellied woodpecker also has a thick, chisel-like bill, and its feet are adapted for clinging to vertical surfaces. However, one distinguishing feature of the red-bellied woodpecker is the black and white stripes on its back, which are absent in the red-headed woodpecker.
Habitat and Distribution of the Red-Headed Woodpecker
The red-headed woodpecker is native to North America, and can be found throughout the eastern and central regions of the United States. The bird prefers open woodland habitats such as savannas, orchards, and parklands, and is often found near water sources such as rivers or lakes.
Habitat and Distribution of the Red-Bellied Woodpecker
The red-bellied woodpecker is also native to North America, but has a wider range than the red-headed woodpecker, found throughout the eastern and southern regions of the United States. The bird is adaptable to a variety of habitats, including woodlands, forests, and suburban areas, and can often be found in parks and gardens.
Diet and Behavior of the Red-Headed and Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Both the red-headed and red-bellied woodpeckers are omnivorous birds, feeding on a variety of insects, fruits, and nuts. They both use their sharp bills to drill into bark and wood to find insects, and may also use their tongues to extract prey from crevices.
In addition to their similar diets, both species also exhibit similar behaviors. They are both quite vocal birds, with distinctive calls that can help bird watchers identify them. They are also both known for their drumming, a behavior in which they rapidly tap their bills against trees to communicate with other birds or to establish territory.
However, there are also some differences in their behaviors. Red-headed woodpeckers are more likely to catch insects in flight, while red-bellied woodpeckers are more likely to forage on the ground. Additionally, red-bellied woodpeckers are more likely to store food, hiding nuts or seeds in crevices or under bark for later consumption.
Bird watchers will find that the red-headed and red-bellied woodpeckers are two distinctive and fascinating species with their own unique characteristics. By observing their physical features, habitat, distribution, and behaviors, bird watchers can easily distinguish between the two and gain a deeper appreciation for these remarkable birds. Whether you’re admiring their striking red heads or listening to their distinctive calls, the red-headed and red-bellied woodpeckers are a true delight to observe in the wild.