Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark
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A red-bellied woodpecker photographed at St. Francis Wildlife Association in Quincy, Florida
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

About the Red-Bellied Woodpecker

The red-bellied woodpecker is the familiar zebra-backed woodpecker of eastern woodlands and towns. Monotypic (or up to 4 weakly defined ssp. sometimes recognized). Length 9".


All red-bellied woodpeckers show a black-and-white barred back, white uppertail coverts, grayish white underparts, black chevrons on the lower flanks and undertail coverts, and barred central tail feathers. In flight a small white patch shows at the base of the primaries. Adult male: entire crown, from bill to nape, is red; there is a suffusion of pink or red on the center of the belly. Adult female: red on the head is limited to nasal tufts (just above the bill) and nape; wash of color on the belly is paler, less extensive. In rare individual females, the nape and nasal tufts can be yellow-orange instead of red. Juvenile: resembles adults but duller, with red nasal tuft and nape patches lacking; bill is brownish (black in adults).

Similar Species

Compare with the golden-fronted woodpecker, which has solid black central rectrices, lacks pink or red on the belly, and has a different pattern of color on the head.


In breeding season, the red-bellied gives a rolling churrr; it also gives also a conversational chiv chiv; softer than calls of the golden-fronted woodpecker. Drum: a simple roll of up to a second, with about 19 beats per second.

Status and Distribution

Common in the Southeast, uncommon to fairly common in the Northeast, Midwest, and Great Plains. Year-round: Pine and hardwood forests, open woodlands, suburbs and parks. Small populations exist west to southeastern North Dakota, central South Dakota, and northeastern Colorado. Dispersal: not migratory, but at least some individuals in northern range withdraw southward in fall. Vagrant: wanders casually north to central Ontario, southern Quebec, Maine, and the maritime provinces of Canada and west to eastern New Mexico; accidental in southeastern Wyoming, Idaho, and Saskatchewan.


Generally stable. The red-bellied has expanded its range northward in the Great Lakes region and New England over the last century and is also expanding northwestward in the Great Plains.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006