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Blane Klemek column: Red-bellied woodpeckers seem to be sticking around

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Based on accounts of many readers who took time to send emails over the past week telling me about their respective red-bellied woodpecker observations, I'd move the species' Minnesota range-line a few hundred miles northwest, if it were up to me.

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It's apparent that red-bellied woodpeckers are not only remaining here throughout the year, but they're breeding and nesting as well!

Take, for instance, comments from John and Bonnie Rubash, who lives southeast of Bemidji, not far from Mr. Lillquist, the man who sparked this whole red-bellied woodpecker conversation. Mr. Rubash wrote that "... we have had red-bellied woodpeckers infrequently for the last 13 years. The first entry we have for one in our bird book is for Thanksgiving Day 1998, when a male showed up at our feeder."

While records the Rubashes keep reveal intermittent observations, the woodpeckers did not entirely disappear. He continued, "About 2001 or 2002, we would have a male here at our sunflower and suet feeders every spring for three years in a row. He would come and call and call and call here in the yard and along our fence-lines hoping and hoping for an answering call from a female -- but none ever answered, so after several weeks, he would give up and we wouldn't see him very often after that."

And further, he wrote, ". . . in the spring of the fourth year (2005 or 2006), after a week or so of calling, we heard another bird answer him! He showed up at our feeders for several weeks with a female! We did not see them nest, nor did we see any young, which was really disappointing after all the years of his calling and searching for a mate."

Mr. Rubash continued, "We did not see any Red Bellies for the next three years -- but the male has been here in both 2010 and 2011 -- but we saw no females. We are looking forward to finding out what will happen at the feeders this year!"

And I'm looking forward to hearing more, too, Mr. Rubash. I hope your "Red Bellies" arrive soon.

From the Walker area, Dale Haugen wrote that red-bellied woodpeckers are showing up at his home also. Mr. Haugen wrote that he's noticing the species with ". . . increasing frequency for the past several years," adding, "This past summer was the first time that I have noticed red-bellied fledglings."

Wow! Did you catch that? Fledgling red-bellied woodpeckers!

Larry Anderson from Becida also wrote to say, "We've had a red-bellied here since summer of 2010. He's never left our area; is here throughout the year."

Mr. Anderson mentioned that although he's never seen a mated pair or fledglings, his family enjoys the bird, especially the "striking red head." He also wrote that they have "... lots of suet feeders in our yard so he has good reason to stay. This year we added a heated birdbath and he comes to drink often."

To further validate that red-bellied woodpeckers are nesting in our neck of the woods, Bill Beck, in addition to Francis and Rosemary Petersen, all from the Bemidji area, wrote to inform me that they, too, observe fledgling red-bellied woodpeckers at their homes.

Said Mr. Beck, "To answer your questions on the red-bellied woodpeckers, we have had them breeding for the last three years in our area. Last year they were here all winter but left this year about October."

Mr. Beck added that he has not seen where they nest, but has learned that his red-bellies prefer their peanut feeder over the sunflower feeders. He has also observed the adult birds feed the offspring. Moreover, Mr. Beck has taken several photographs, one of which he sent me that clearly shows two red-bellies and what appears to be an adult male bird perched next to a young bird.

And while Mr. Beck remarked that he had numerous pictures of red-bellied woodpeckers on the peanut feeder, he admitted that "... finding the adult and the offspring at the same time is tricky."

Lastly, there's Mr. and Mrs. Petersen, who have lived in the Bemidji area for more than 20 years, wrote that red-bellied woodpeckers have been visiting their feeders year-round for many years. Mr. Petersen closed by writing, "They must nest in the area, because we also see their young."

So there you have it. It appears that red-bellied woodpeckers aren't paying much attention to any of the field guidebooks. They, like a few other species of birds I know of, seem to be inching their way northward, or to areas not previously occupied by many of their kind.

That red-bellied woodpeckers are revealing themselves year-round and, in some cases, are evidently breeding and nesting, too, shouldn't come as a big surprise. Still, the subject and news is interesting to learn about and share.

Indeed, with winters such as these, I've joked that hummingbirds will soon be staying throughout the year! Heated hummingbird feeders anyone?

Those ladder-backed, red-headed, peanut-loving red-bellied woodpeckers are (hopefully) here to stay as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Blane Klemek is a wildlife manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He can be reached at bklemek@yahoo.com.

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