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Natural North Dakota

Red-bellied Woodpeckers

We have had a red-bellied woodpecker in the neighborhood.  It is hard to say how long it will stick around, but I have managed a good look at it a couple of times.  

I suspect that most North Dakotans are not familiar with this woodpecker.  It is a bit smaller than a flicker and has black and white stripes across the back.  The most obvious characteristic is a bright reddish-orange cap and nape on the males.  Females have the red only on the back of the head.  That red will catch your attention, and the one I have been seeing is obviously a male.  

The name red-bellied did not make any sense to me because from what I could see the belly was a creamy brown.  However, although it is not always readily observed, the belly often has a faint tint of red.  

North Dakota is on the edge of the red-bellied woodpecker’s range.  Cornell University’s All About Birds website shows the red-bellied woodpecker as a permanent resident in the eastern United States, roughly eastward of a line from central Minnesota southward to Texas with a little more westward limit in the south Plains States.  

Robert Stewart’s Breeding Birds of North Dakota from 1975 notes the species is an accidental breeder in the state, with a definite breeding record from 1939 near Mandan.  Single adults were also recorded during three years in the 1960’s along the James River in Stutsman County.  “The Revised Checklist of North Dakota Birds” by Carl Faaness and Robert Stewart lists the species as rare for all seasons except for summer where it is listed as occasional.  

Red-bellied woodpeckers feed on insects and other invertebrates.  They are also fond of acorns and fruits such as that from hawthorn and mountain ash.  If you are interested in attracting them to your yard, they are fond of suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts (unsalted please!).  

And as you might expect, they are cavity nesters.  However, they are not picky.  Several sources note that they prefer any partly decayed stub.  So woodlands with oak and some old decadent aspen or cottonwood should be good habitat for these birds.   So keep an eye out for these interesting woodpeckers in your area. They are colorful and interesting to watch. 

-Chuck Lura

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