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“Fruity Pecker”: The Red-bellied Woodpecker

By Rick Claybrook, Wildlife Biologist

Some of my fondest childhood memories were the carefree summer days spent with my grandparents. My grandparents lived in the country on a small farm in rural Coosa County, Alabama. I recall having a keen interest in wildlife at an early age and staying with my grandparents during the summer vacation months gave me the opportunity to explore the natural world and expand my curiosity of the outdoors. Chasing after lizards or finding a nest of baby birds to check on each day until they fledged was a part of my daily entertainment.

The old home place had several varieties of apple trees. I vividly remember one of my chores, to earn my keep, was to keep those pesky sapsuckers (as my granddad called them) scared out of the apple trees. They will peck a hole in every good apple on the trees,” he would say. I would later learn that those sapsuckers were actually red-bellied woodpeckers. I believe they would come from miles away just to sample the fruit.

The red-bellied woodpecker is quite common throughout the Southeast. A non-migratory species, it inhabits forests, farmlands and orchards and their diet consists mainly of insects, nut, seeds and a variety of fruits.

It belongs to a group known as the ladder-backed woodpeckers, so called because of the distinct black and white coloration bans on their back and wings. The adult male has a distinct red nape and crown with the female having a red nape and a sandy brown crown. The belly, throat, chin and side of face are grayish to sandy brown in color with a reddish wash color on the belly of both sexes.

The red-bellied woodpecker is a cavity nester generally making its nest in a snag tree. The female lays an average clutch of four eggs that hatch in 12-14 days once incubation has begun. Both male and female share the incubation duties.

Another interesting physical feature of the woodpecker is a unique foot design that has two toes pointing forward and two facing backward. The woodpecker uses its feet and short, stiff tail to maneuver up, down and around tree trunks and branches in search of food. Incidentally, the red-bellied woodpecker can easily be attracted to a suet feeder and/or bird feeder stocked with small black oil sunflower seeds, especially during the winter months.

Looking back, I guess it was selfish to scare those woodpeckers out of the apple trees, especially in years when the trees were loaded with apples. Those carefree summer days have long come and gone, but I believe that all good things come back around again. For, you see, I’ve planted several varieties of apple trees in the backyard, not so much for myself as for the wildlife. When I hear that familiar hoarse-rattle note of the red-bellied woodpecker announcing its presence in the apple orchard, I can’t help but recall my childhood days long past, but always remembered.

Rick Claybrook is now retired. For more information on the red-bellied woodpecker, contact the Nongame Wildlife Biologist 334-242-3469.

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