On New Year's Day 2009, the first-ever Red-bellied Woodpecker visited my yard in upstate New York. It was a female, who enjoyed a snack at my birdfeeders and was never seen again.
Fast forward eighteen months, June 24, 2010, another female checking out the feeders, then moving on. Then another nineteen months pass, one shows up on February 2, 2012, stays a few days, then gone!
The next red-bellied showed up September 30, 2013, seventeen months later. This individual didn't venture into the yard, and was seen only that day, high in a nearby tree.
Then, a breakthrough! The fifth appearance of a Red-bellied Woodpecker on January 31, 2014, just four months later! And here it is, the beginning of April, and he's still around!
The suet logs are his favorite feeders and his favorite tree is the silver maple over-looking the yard. He's been here just about every day, he has been counted in just about every Project FeederWatch count since he arrived, as well as showing up to be included in my counts for the Great Backyard Bird Count.
But the big question is: will he stay?
Since the 1950s and 1960s, Red-bellied Woodpeckers have been steadily expanding their range northward. The New York Breeding Bird Atlas offers that, "before that, the species was not even common in northern Pennsylvania or northern New Jersey." It is also noted that the current distribution is in areas under 2,000 feet elevation and that it is possible that winter temperatures mark the limits of their expansion.
Recovery of forested areas and the abundance of bird feeding has probably helped fuel this exciting expansion of Red-bellied Woodpeckers. We hear more and more of our customers telling us they have red-bellieds as daily visitors at their birdfeeders. Some have seen young in their yards as well. They're being seen in suburban yards as well as in rural yards that are closer to the river valleys and at lower elevations.
We have the right habitat of mixed deciduous-coniferous woods (maybe a bit heavier on the coniferous side) that (in my biased thinking) would make a fine home for a red-bellied family. And while my male's extended stay in the area is promising, I wonder if will he stay if he doesn't find a mate. Is he on the "leading edge" of the birds' expansion northward and westward? And are there other red-bellieds - a potential mate - not far behind? Will my male stay around waiting for a mate to move into the area, and if so, for how long? Or will he retreat to an area that has an established population?
I hear his churrrr call from the trees, announcing his presence to whatever might listen. It will be interesting to see what happens this summer. Of course I hope he stays, and that he lures a mate into the area. The species' adaptability has brought them this far, so it's not too much of a stretch to anticipate their movement into my habitat as well. I'll keep watching and listening and bribing him with suet in the log feeder, savoring every day this red-bellied pioneer visits my yard.