This bird likes to dig in and stay if starlings will leave it alone

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By Horace Brown

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are known for the pounding cacophony caused by their excavation of cavities in tree trunks.

They pound and dig a 1.75-2.25-inch-wide cavity that this about a foot deep, usually in a large branch or the trunk of a dead tree, but dead snags in health trees also are used.

That’s where they make their homes and raise their broods.

But it’s not as simple as it sounds.

One spring, I watched a pair of these Red-bellied Woodpeckers busily excavating a new cavity in a dead branch of a Black Locust tree. Nearby, I saw and heard a male European Starling singing.

In a few days, upon complete of the cavity, the bully starlings had taken over complete control of the cavity.

Starlings will assemble several of their own kind to help evict native woodpeckers by using numbers in their harassment, making it impossible for the Red-bellied Woodpecker to nest.

Because of the alien starlings’ tremendously large population, I truly suspect that many of our native woodpeckers will disappear to the point of possible extinction.

I have good neighbor who actually traps about 100 starlings each year to help protect his Purple Martin colony. This is a big boost to help not only the martins but also the Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-headed Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers to be able to have families.

Three to eight eggs are laid in their cavities, which will be 5 to 70 feet above ground, with incubation by both sexes for14 days.

And woodpecker stores food on a regular basis in and around tree trunks.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is 9.25 inches long with a 16-inch long wingspan and is a permanent resident of Kentucky.

But, despite its name, this bird has belly red that I usually find very hard to see unless you are close and the belly feathers are ruffled.

In full flight, this woodpecker shows white patches. The red patch on the lower abdomen and rump is seldom visible in the field.

However the deep red on the top of the head of the male and the same red on the nape of the female are very visible.

So go ahead and get your almost daily exercise by hiking and watching for a woodpecker catching his food in the Great Outdoors.


To read more of Horace Brown’s columns about birds in Shelby County, go to www.SentinelNews.com/recreation.