01.28.18: At home

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker checking top of hollow tree, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio. 


Technical information

March 21, 2015,
10:03 a.m.

40°6’51” N,
82°57'10" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D, Mark II

Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 


1/640th second


When I first saw the top of this dead tree during a 2015 hike through Sharon Woods Metro Park north of Columbus, Ohio, it was obvious that woodpeckers had been very busy. The tree had two fresh holes near the top, providing a perfect nesting site.

Moments later this male Red-bellied Woodpecker flew in to check the work.

Over the next few weeks I watched as a male and female Red-bellied Woodpecker completed their work and moved in, taking turns in the nest. Then suddenly they were gone.

I never saw evidence of young woodpeckers in the cavities and didn’t see young birds emerge from nesting site, but I was only near the site for an hour or so each week. I could have missed them. Or there could have been a problem of some sort. All I know is that the adult woodpeckers were no longer around that site after a couple of weeks.

There’s a possibility that the nest could have been raided by other birds. Nest holes like these are a valuable commodity for the variety of birds known as cavity dwellers. Red-bellied Woodpeckers have been known to take over the nests of other birds. But more often they’re victims to the aggressive European Starling. According to various online bird sites I’ve checked, as many as half of all Red-bellied Woodpecker nests in some areas get invaded by starlings.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is about nine inches tall. Males, like the one in this photo, have a red cape and nape. Females have a red nape. The bird also has a small red-tinged patch on it’s belly. Some people incorrectly call this a Red-headed Woodpecker. That’s a different, less common species with a head that’s entirely red.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers search for insects hidden in tree bark, as do other varieties of woodpeckers. But Red-bellied Woodpeckers also use the bark as a sort of tool. They wedge large nuts into crevices in the bark, then use their beaks to hammer the nuts into pieces. Like other varieties of woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers also use cracks in trees to store food for later in the year.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.