29 December 2014
Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus is one of only two members of the genus Melanerpes found in our area. Over the past twenty years or so it has expanded dramatically and is now verging on common in this region. In fact, from the completion of the first Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas in the mid 1980s to the termination of the second atlas for the years 2001 - 2005 the population had increased by about 250% province-wide.
It is a very handsome bird indeed, as the following picture shows.
Part of the reason for its success is no doubt warmer mean winter temperatures and the varied and eclectic diet of this species. It does not fit the stereotypical image of a woodpecker clinging to a tree, chiseling away at the bark or drilling holes in a search for insect prey.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers feed on a wide variety of fruits, nuts, acorns, berries, corn, and will readily consume sunflower seeds at a backyard bird feeder.
In addition they take a range of invertebrate prey, including beetles, ants, grasshoppers, snails and pretty much anything else they can capture.
They are also known to eat tree frogs, small mammals, small fish, and even the young of other species such as Black-capped Chickadees Parus atricapillus. This practice of feeding on the young of other species is not confined to Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and I remember reading about the predation of Great Spotted Woodpeckers Picoides major on Blue Tits Parus caeruleus in Britain. The woodpeckers would listen at a nest box and when they heard the young inside they would drill through the wooden sides in order to capture the young tits. This led to the development of a kind of concrete compound nest box to foil the would be assassin.
Today this individual was feeding on whole corn kernels left on the top of a log.
It was joined by several other species, including Black-capped Chickadee and
White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis to take advantage of what was very obviously an easy meal.
Red-bellied Woodpecker is our second largest woodpecker in North America and perhaps because of its sheer size whenever it came to feed the other birds left it alone to feed at will.
The following picture of a White-breasted Nuthatch shows the size of an intact kernel of corn (maize). No doubt what was a mouthful for a chickadee or a nuthatch was a mere morsel for the woodpecker.
We drove around for a while visiting several of our regular birding spots and were well rewarded in the little hamlet of Glen Allen with this adult Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus, another species becoming quite common in the region. We had earlier seen a first or second year bird at nearby Conestogo Lake, but nothing quite rivals the spectacular grace and beauty of an adult bird.