The Gleaner

Red-bellied woodpecker expands range northwards

“I’ve never seen one of those before!” Sounds like the start of my article about evening grosbeaks in the January 25 edition, right? The difference is that those birds were rare, and today’s subject – the red-bellied woodpecker – was simply a first for me. Amazingly, it was while I was doing some research on that species in response to Ellen Bulow’s mention of them in her letter that my first sighting occurred.

According to the map on, the typical range of these medium-sized woodpeckers is across southern Ontario and the eastern United States. However, a look at the sightings map seems to demonstrate that the birds are expanding their range northwards to here in the Valley, along the Saint-Lawrence River to the Gulf, and into the Maritimes. That’s where efforts like Project FeederWatch, in which Bulow participates, help. When volunteer “citizen scientists” report their lists, they are helping researchers at Birds Canada and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology learn more about bird populations and changes in ranges.

A free resource of the Cornell Lab, reports that red-bellied woodpeckers are common and increasing in population as they expand their range northward. This helps to explain their local appearances. Sure enough, while I was researching this bird that I had never seen before, a female showed up at our Ormstown feeder, a hopper feeder with mixed seeds. She has returned several times in the past few days and visited our neighbour as well.


Ormstowns Stephanie Beckett was thrilled to spot this male red bellied woodpecker at her feeder in November Though sometimes their bellies may not seem very red they do sport the colour beautifully the males have a red crown and nape while the females have a red nape only and a little tuft just over the beak giving them the appearance of a receding hairline Neither should be confused with the male red headed woodpecker a rarer bird whose entire head is red PHOTO Stephanie Beckett


Of the guest at her suet feeder, Bulow, who lives “at the Athelstan end” of Lost Nation Road, says, “The wonderful news is that our red-bellied woodpecker is a male. He was here today despite the cold, and hopefully will connect with your female! The birds are north of their regular range, so it is quite a wonderful thing to see. I guess we have global warming to thank!”

In Dewittville, Kelly McNamara has been enjoying these new visitors for a couple of years now. She first noticed them in the spring of 2021, and she says a mother and juvenile were present last summer. A male dined on suet and sunflower seeds at her open feeder as we were chatting about this article.

Like Project FeederWatch, the Great Backyard Bird Count helps turn such observations into useful data. The annual count is coming up from February 17 to 20 when people around the world will share their lists. You can contribute by counting for as little as 15 minutes on one of the four days, but I think I might dedicate more time. After all, how else can you relax with a favourite beverage, appreciating the beauty around you, and say, “I’m doing it for science”?

Find out more at And if you get any exciting visitors, we’d love to hear about them too. Submit your nature news or questions to

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