Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Irresistible! Attract Red-bellied Woodpeckers to Your Feeder

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are medium-sized woodpeckers. They are common in woodlands in the eastern United States. 

They readily come to feeders if you live near big trees and provide the right foods.

How do you attract Red-bellied Woodpeckers to your feeder? Follow these suggestions to attract Red-bellied Woodpeckers to your yard.

Photo of Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker. Skeeze. Pixabay.

Why attract Red-bellied Woodpeckers to your bird feeder?

Woodpeckers, in general, are very interesting to watch. They behave so much differently than other birds. They spend most of their life hitching up the trunk of trees, probing and digging in the bark for insects.

They can be loud, too. So, you'll always know when they are at your feeder!

Red-bellied Woodpeckers have adapted to live in city residential areas and parks. Thus, they are rather easy to attract to your backyard bird feeder if you have larger trees nearby.

The coloration of Red-bellied Woodpeckers in unique. They have finely barred black-and-white back, wings, and tail feathers. The extent of the red crown helps you tell males from females.

These birds aren't very aggressive toward other birds. They occur singly or in pairs. Thus, they don't overwhelm the bird feeder in numbers or action. 

For these reasons Red-bellied Woodpeckers are welcome at feeders across the East.

Photo of Red-bellied Woodpecker
ryanacandee. Flickr. CC-BY-2.0

What foods will attract Red-bellied Woodpeckers to your feeder?

To attract Red-bellied Woodpeckers, feed them suet in winter. This fat provides them calories and protein like their natural food--grubs!

Speaking of grubs, Red-bellied Woodpeckers love mealworms, both live and dried. I recently tried feeding birds mealworms. Read the article here.

For my home feeders, I always purchase St Albans Bay Suet blocks (Amazon affiliate link). It comes in several flavors, including peanut and berry. They fit in required special suet cages, which are a type of bird feeder. 

These woodpeckers love peanuts and tree nuts. Feed them nuts removed from the shell. They may like nut pieces or halves. For birds, nuts should be fed raw and unsalted.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers may also eat sunflower seeds, both striped sunflowers and black oil sunflowers. They will eat them whole or shelled.

The best mixed bird seed that I have found is Wagner's Songbird Supreme (Amazon affiliate link). It is 50% sunflower seeds and doesn't have any cheap filler seed that birds won't eat. This seed attracts the largest variety of birds to your feeder. Woodpeckers will eat the sunflower seeds and peanut pieces and leave the other smaller seeds for the sparrows.

As an alternative to bird seed, Red-bellied Woodpeckers will like seed blocks. Here's an example seed block from Amazon (affiliate link). They may be called quail blocks or wildlife blocks. Check the label to make sure it lists sunflowers and peanuts as one of the first 3 ingredients.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers may also eat fruit. Try serving sliced oranges, apples, and grapes.

They also drink nectar from hummingbird feeders. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, as I'll discuss toward the end of this article.

Photo of Red-bellied Woodpecker
Ian Lee. Flickr. CC-BY-2.0

What kind of feeders do Red-bellied Woodpeckers like?

Red-bellied Woodpeckers prefer to eat from platform feeders and larger hopper feeders. These give them room to eat, as they are a bit larger than many of the other birds at the feeder.

As for a suet feeder, they'll eat from any.

I bought a Nature's Way Upside-down suet feeder (Amazon affiliate link) a couple years ago and have been very happy with it. Chickadees, nuthatches, bushtits, and woodpeckers eat from it easily. But starlings, blackbirds, and jays can't hang upside down to get at the suet.

I created this video on Red-bellied Woodpeckers to accompany this article. My YouTube channel discusses birds and bird watching. You may like it!

Where to place your bird feeder for Red-bellied Woodpeckers

Red-bellied Woodpeckers aren't overly timid. They will come to feeders near the home, but probably not if you are outside and near the feeders. They are large enough they hold their own against other birds.

You may want to separate different feeders from each other, based on food type. That way the different species of birds, which like different foods, aren't in competition.

Consider placing your suet feeder near a large tree. That's where the Red-bellied Woodpecker will probably approach from. 

Photo of Red-bellied Woodpecker
Kim Taylor Hull. Flickr. CC-BY-2.0

How else can you attract Red-bellied Woodpeckers to your yard?

As long as it is safe, consider leaving standing dead trees that serve as a home for wildlife. Woodpeckers will drill nest holes into such trees. Then, in subsequent years, other cavity nesting birds will use the old woodpecker holes for their nest.

You may plant or encourage trees with berries. Red-bellied Woodpeckers and other birds will eat the fruit of hawthorn, mountain ash and elderberries. 

Red-bellied Woodpeckers will appreciate a bird bath with clean water for drinking and bathing.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are one of the few woodpeckers that will nest in a man-made nest box. The dimensions should be 17-1/2 x 7-1/2 x 9-3/4 inches. The entrance hole should have a diameter of 2-1/4 inches, and be protected with a metal predator guard to prevent the woodpecker from making the hole bigger. This is larger than the ty[ical bluebird nest boxes. Place the nest box 8-20 feet high in a tree. Here is an example woodpecker nest box on Amazon (affiliate link).

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Photo of Red-bellied Woodpecker
Susan Young. Flickr. Public Domain.

Problems with Red-bellied Woodpeckers: If you have attracted too many to your feeder

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are usually not a nuisance. But they can be loud, sometimes.

But any woodpecker may drill holes in your siding or drum on your house or downspouts to declare their territory. This is usually only a problem in spring. If it happens at other times of year, have your home inspected for termites.

I have used reflective bird tape (Amazon) with success to discourage similar Gila Woodpeckers from excavating nest holes in the siding of my house. They nest in the saguaro in my yard, but drill holes in spring in places they shouldn't. I cut strips about 16 inches long and attached them to my eves with thumbtacks near where they were drilling. Easy and cheap.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are a bit too big to eat from tube feeders. But they try! And they can damage or destroy such feeders trying to get inside. Here's a great tube feeder that discourages woodpeckers. It has metal top and feeding ports to protect against damage from woodpeckers and squirrels.

I really love the way my iBorn tube feeder (Amazon affiliate link) looks, with it's copper top.  A screwdriver takes off the lower perch and opens it up for cleaning. This feeder filled with black oil sunflower seeds attracts all types of finches, chickadees, and nuthatches. The smaller perches and lack of tray mean that you'll have fewer House Sparrows, Starlings, Doves, and Jays at this feeder.

Red-bellied Woodpecker FAQ

Ask questions in the comments below about attracting and feeding Red-bellied Woodpeckers and I'll add the answer here!


Why aren't birds coming to your feeder?

First in series: Irresistible! Attract Mourning Doves to your feeder

Next in series: Irresistible! Attract Tufted Titmice to your feeder

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