Attracting Red-bellied Woodpeckers
The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a Cavity Nesting Bird. Being woodpeckers they can excavate their own cavities but they will occassionally use nest boxes. Red-bellied woodpeckers are well adapted to yards with scattered trees. They are a bird of forests and woodlands and they do much of their feeding on trees.
Things you can do to attract and benefit red-bellied woodpeckers in your backyard
- Put up a Nest Box designed for red-bellied woodpeckers
- Practice European Starling Control using traps
- Don't use insecticides
- Plant native trees and elminate non-native trees
- Feed homemade Suet
Red-bellied Woodpecker Nest Box
If you want to attract red-bellied woodpeckers to nest in your yard, put up a Nest Box designed for them. The nest box should be half filled with hardwood wood shavings to allow the woodpeckers to excavate their own home, as this is part of the courtship process. Soft aspen shavings are best and can be purchased at any store that sells animal bedding. Don't use softwood shavings such as pine or cedar as they are full of splinters which could hurt the young.
Some suggesting filling the box full of wood shavings but this prevents the birds from roosting in the boxes during winter. The fact that they roost in the boxes may encourage them to nest in them as well.
A nest box size based on naturally excavated nesting cavities is built using 4" and 8" planed one inch lumber available at any lumber supply store.
- Sides: 14" long, 7 ¼" wide (8" lumber)
- Front/Back: 14" long, 3 ½" wide (4" lumber)
- Recessed base: 3 ½" x 5 ¾"
- Hole: 2" diameter
The box opens from the top. The top is held on with two screws, each kitty-corner from the other. One screw can be loosened to rotate the top open. This allows the box to be filled with wood shaving, aids in removing trapped starlings using a Nest Box Trap, and allows monitoring the nest box.
Mounting a Red-bellied Woodpecker Nest Box
The method of mounting the red-bellied nest box is as important as the design of the nest box. Mounting to a tree is not a good idea, as squirrels will be attracted to it as well as predators. Furthermore a nest box mounted on a tree is difficult to monitor. A much better technique is to mount the box to a telescoping pole that attached to rebar. This allows the box to be located anywhere you can drive the rebar in the ground. It's important to locate the nest box in an area with a clear flight path to the box.
The box is mounted to a 5' length of ½" conduit. Drill a hole through the conduit and the nest box so the box can be bolted to the conduit. The ½" conduit is mounted to a 5' length of ¾" conduit. A hole is drilled through both pieces of conduit with 12" of overlap. Drill the hole in the 1" conduit one inch from the top. Drill the hole in the ½" conduit 11" from the bottom. Combined they will have 12" of overlap and create a telescoping pole. A ¼" carriage bolt is used to secure the two pieces of conduit together. When the bolt is removed the top portion of the pole can be removed or lowered into the ¾" conduit..
The ¾" conduit is attached to a 4' length of #5 rebar. First the rebar is driven into the ground with about 1 foot above ground. Place the conduit over the rebar.
Learn more about the design and placement of Nest Boxes.
Besides putting up a nest box, you will need to implement Starling Control Traps as the starlings will prevent red-bellied woodpeckers from nesting successfully. Starlings seek out woodpeckers that are excavating a nest cavity. They will harass the woodpeckers until the they abandon their cavity. They are more aggressive than red-bellied woodpeckers and are very persistent. In our cities and towns the starlings out number the woodpeckers greatly. The red-bellied woodpeckers just don't have a chance against the huge numbers of starlings. If you have a suet feeder, you probably know how many starlings visit your neighborhood.
To control starlings that are trying to steal the red-bellied woodpecker's nest box, place a second equivalent nest box about six feet away. Place a Nest Box Trap in the second nest box. When a starling tries to steal the red-bellied nest box, it will find the second empty next box. It should enter it and be captured by the trap.
Here are some accounts of starlings stealing nest sites from woodpeckers.
- Starlings competing with flickers for nest sites from American Artifacts, Birds in the Home Habitat
- Starlings usurping woodpeckers home from the Purple Martin Forum
Trees for Flickers
Native trees that are preferred by flickers grow to a large size and tend to have soft wood that is easily excavated. Woodpeckers don't just need the trees for nesting, but also for foraging for food for their hatchlings. Alien tree species do not support insects which the birds need to raise healthy young. Native tree species support hundreds of insect species that feed our native birds.
The best trees in Kansas for flickers are the following.
- Eastern Cottonwood (a favorite among most woodpeckers)
- Common Hackberry
- Silver Maple
- Box Elder
- Peach-leaved Willow
Male Red-bellied Woodpecker at Nest Box
This male woodpecker began shaping the hole to this nest box.