Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum: Little Drummer Bird

I love this time of year in Florida. The birds have returned; a lot go missing for many months since they are smart enough to travel north during the times of blasted heat.

At one point, I swear the bird was sleeping…look at the eye

One that I see often in late fall, winter and spring is the Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus). There are a few, here and there over the summer months, but they pretty much stick to the woods where it is cooler. The name seems odd since the red on the belly isn’t all that prominent but what is visible on the head sure is. There is only a slight red wash on the belly, hardly noticeable. A lot of people think they are redheaded woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus), but those have heads that are completely red like Little Red Riding Hood, whereas the Red-bellied has a Mohawk thing going on although the front of the female’s cap is gray.

This bird was likely female with the gray “tophat”. Note how they chipped away the bark on this Pine Snag

Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a distinctive call and I can hear them from a distant lot when they are working on their breeding cavities. They build their nest in snags and use the wood chips as the nesting material.

This one is male….I’m not sure what species the other two are ;)

The males have a habit of hammering on metal to attract a mate and they are more than happy to use your rain gutters, aluminum siding, car or any other available metals so they sound like the strongest, best man for the job. I guess that is the reasoning behind calling a group of woodpeckers a “drumming”. One time they also started hammering on a wooden section of my house where the siding had blown down. I did shoo that one away!

They make large, deep holes in dead trees or large dead branches for nesting

The range for this bird is the eastern half of the U.S. from around the Great Lakes and Southern New England south to the Gulf and Florida. They can be year round residents although the northern most birds may move further south during the cold of winter.

They aren’t concerned with the fanciness of a feeder, recycled will do

The Red-bellied Woodpecker has an interesting flight. It dips as it flies resembling an aircraft in downdraft turbulence. To me it looks like a very bumpy ride though I didn’t see any airsickness bags to confirm that theory.

They will eat nuts

The preferred menu is insects that they glean from trees, snags and less often from the ground. You can find them looking for berries and they are happy to visit a backyard feeder. In addition, they won’t pass up fruits, vegetables, acorns, nuts or sap and you may find them hanging from a suet cake. Red-bellied Woodpeckers also may eat lizards, eggs or nestlings of other birds and small fish.

Even pine nuts will do

Predators include the invasive European Starling who will hijack their nesting cavity and destroy eggs.

A lady gleaning bugs from the snag is fun to watch

These woodpeckers are fascinating to watch and it is worth the effort to birdscape your yard to try and attract them.

© 2012, Loret T. Setters. All rights reserved. This article is the property of We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Join the Wren Song Community

Wren Winter Singing crop

Free Exclusive Content and Member's Forum

Sign up for a free membership in the Wren Song Community and you'll have access to a lot more valuable information published exclusively for our members.

Meet other passionate wildlife gardeners from around the country. Share your successes. Learn from your failures. Discover the best resources to help you create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your gardens with native plants so that you will attract more birds, butterflies, native pollinators, and other wildlife to your garden.

Learn more about the Wren Song Community


  1. Lynn says

    We don’t have this particular woodpecker here in Minnesota (to the best of my knowledge at least,) but I do have a few hairy woodpeckers, a couple of piliaed, and a few downy woodpeckers, as well as an occasional sapsucker and flicker. They love the sunflower seeds in the feeders, and are friendly with the other birds…chickadees, grosbeaks, sparrows, finches, etc. I’ve never had trouble with them pecking on the house, but my son did. He finally ended up putting a huge net over the entire side of the house that was getting drilled on a regular basis. On the net he has tied many cd discs..that has seemed to resolve the problem after several attempts of other suggestions. They’re a beautiful bird and fun to watch.

    • says

      Hi Lynn

      Yes, MN is outside their range, especially as far north as you. I miss the downy woodpeckers. the websites say that FL is in their range, but I’ve yet to encounter any….and I had so many when I was up in NY.

      I’m lucky that they generally stick to hammering the gutters and leader. I’ll keep that tip in mind if they ever come back and hammer the front of the house again.
      Loret T. Setters recently posted..Profile of Darkness

  2. says

    I’ve got Red-Bellied Woodpeckers here in Philly all year round. They’re kind of bossy, though, kicking the Flickers out of a nest they worked very hard on, flying right at the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers to make them give up the best buggy trees. But I imagine they were more than a little surprised the day the family of 3 Pileated Woodpeckers showed up, LOL. Not the biggest bully on the block anymore :)
    Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..The 5 Pillars of Ecosystem Gardening

    • says

      That’s funny! They did seem pushy at the bird feeder when I used to maintain a feeder.

      My research revealed that they do attack eggs and nestlings, and I’m not sure why that surprised me. flickers too? I haven’t seen flickers in florida although the websites say FL is in their range. Maybe the darn redbellieds are scaring them away.

      Now it has me thinking that perhaps the red-bellied was the culprit who did in my brown-headed nuthatches. the nest was in the same snag as the one in this story.
      Loret T. Setters recently posted..Profile of Darkness

  3. says

    Thanks, Loret. I agree with Ellen – great photos – and new information for me as well. We see woodpeckers in our Kentucky backyard occasionally – usually in the winter. They seem primarily interested in hunting for insects in the cracks and crevices of our aged silver maple tree.
    Betty Hall recently posted..Frost flowers on white crownbeard

    • says

      Thank you Betty! Those here seem to focus on the Pines, living or dead. I have a couple of red maples, but they are saplings so I don’t suppose they hold many insects yet. I’ll have to pay attention as the trees grow older to see if they draw in the woodpeckers like your silver maple does. Thanks for stopping by!
      Loret recently posted..Profile of Darkness

    • says

      thanks Kathy. I don’t buy bird seed any longer, letting everyone “live off the land”, but occasionally I will put out some leftover nuts by the “rusty birds” and I always smile when I see the real birds show up, unconcerned with the competition.
      Loret recently posted..Profile of Darkness

  4. Cindy says

    Hi Loret! I have frequent Red Bellied visitors to feeders & woods, all year round, like Carol..They are a favorite! I learned a lot about them I didn’t know from your post.. especially that they wear shoes.. ;-)

  5. Kevin J Railsback says

    Although I live in a fairly new development, I still get hairy and downy woodpeckers coming to my suet feeders.
    Probably one of my greatest thrills recently was seeing a pileated out at a local nature center. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen one and was on cloud nine after my encounter.

    One of the thing tht really helped me was I had an app for my iPhone tht had the calls of the birds tht cn be found in the Midwest. I listened to the call of the pileated and actually herd him before I saw him.
    Sad part is tht I’ve heard the call before nd if I had know what it was would have probably spotted one a lot sooner.
    Kevin J Railsback recently posted..The Sun Doesn’t Always Shine In Nature But Go Out Anyway

    • says

      Hi Kevin!

      glad to hear the woodpeckers are enjoying the suet. I had pileated nest here the very first year (2006) that I moved to this lot. They visit every now and again, but not as often as I would like.That tree snag fell and they never developed an interested in the other two.

      Knowing the calls can be instrumental in locating birds. I wish I had an iphone to have the capability right at hand. I’ve run into the computer a time or two to listen to some birdcalls to try and find out what species I am hearing so I would know where to look.

      You’ll probably add a lot to your life list due to such amazing technology right in your pocket. Shows that nature AND technology can sometimes compliment each other. Enjoy your app and thanks for stopping by!
      Loret recently posted..Profile of Darkness

  6. Sally Wood says

    Love the clog shoe feeder! Yes, I watched a woodpecker one day working a tree trunk. How can those little bodies and heads be so strong? And do they ever work hard! Some woodpacker calls sound almost like the cliched tropical bird calls.


  1. […] This gal was attracted to a bouquet of dried native wildflowers that I gathered from around the yard and placed up on the platform feeder. I don’t really use any commercial bird food these days (with the rare exception of sunflowers seeds). A regular visitor, you can read more about this bird’s antics in my garden: […]

  2. […] 134. Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum: Little Drummer Bird: I love this time of year in Florida. The birds have returned; a lot go missing for many months since they are smart enough to travel north during the times of blasted heat. One that I see often in late fall, winter and spring is the Red-bellied Woodpecker… ~Loret T. Setters […]

  3. […] computer room window which faces the front of the property.  I really didn’t think much of it. Red-bellied Woodpeckers bang incessantly around here, with the males often using the gutters of my house to sound bigger […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge