Red-bellied Woodpeckers: Nest Excavation Has Begun

Near the beginning of April each year, I start watching Red-bellied Woodpeckers as they excavate nesting cavities in Eliza Howell Park.

(Once again I thank Margaret Weber for the use of some of her photos.)


This year so far I am watching two pairs at work; I will likely find others in the next few days. Though they may use the same tree, they make a new hole each time they nest.

Some birds do not make a nest at all (might use a previously existing cavity or nest on the ground), but Red-bellied Woodpeckers undertake a major construction project each time.

It takes the pair about 10 days (plus or minus a couple) to dig out the hole, which is 8 or more inches deep and 3 – 6 inches wide. The entrance is about 2 inches across and slightly elliptical.

Resized_20190406_191238The male starts the excavation, pausing often to call, perhaps asking his mate to approve site selection. When the female begins to participate in the work, I am quite confident that this project is likely to be completed.

After hammering away from the outside for a few days, the hole is big enough for them to work on the inside. It is fascinating to watch them bring out the chips to scatter.

20200401_165515Red-bellied Woodpeckers select trees or limbs that are dead but solid, not rotten. The excavation involves many, many hours.

Here is a male looking out from a (nearly) completed nest.

20200401_130515When done, the female lays (usually 4) eggs and both sexes incubate.

Sometimes European Starlings take over a newly made nest before the woodpeckers can use it (a phenomenon to be commented on more fully at another time). When that happens, the woodpeckers start over from the beginning.

They work hard and their numbers demonstrate that they are successful breeders.

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