Male Red-bellied Woodpecker, photographed in Warren  Photo by Don Reimer
Male Red-bellied Woodpecker, photographed in Warren Photo by Don Reimer

Throughout the early fall, people who watch and feed birds are reporting a heavy increase in Red-bellied Woodpecker sightings across the state. Red-bellieds are currently being recorded at dozens of sites, including Camden, Rockport and island settings like Vinalhaven (at least 5 there), North Haven and Monhegan Island. Sightings in southern Maine are too numerous to list. Up until recent decades, this handsome woodpecker was found principally in the southeastern United States and in the mid-Atlantic states. A similar woodpecker incursion happened back in 2004 when hundreds of these birds moved into Maine and the maritime provinces. A few pairs now nest in southern Maine. The Red-bellied species is easily separated from other woodpeckers. The black and white ladder-backed plumage and light gray underparts are distinctive. Males show a reddish-orange hood that extends onto the forehead and a slight pinkish blush is sometimes evident on the belly area. The female's red cap is confined to the nape area. Although found in a variety of habitats, Red-bellieds prefer open deciduous woodland with large trees as nesting sites. They forage for insects during the warmer months and subsist on fruits, nuts and seeds during the winter, being particularly fond of black oil sunflower seeds. Like many birds in winter, these woodpeckers will cache food in tree crevices. Highly vocal, both sexes produce a squealing "churrr-churrr-churrr" sound. As many as six different calls are used to communicate, and their vocal patterns are unlike the typical "pik-pik" calls of our local Downy and Hairy woodpeckers.