The last time we had temperatures almost this cold here in Northfield, I believe, was January 15, 2009. According to this blog, that morning the temperature was -25, and that was the only time a red-belled woodpecker has ever visited our feeders (to our knowledge)... until this morning!
I was working from home this morning and I kept one eye on the feeders, expecting it might be a particularly busy or interesting morning because of the cold. There was no action at all until after 10 a.m., when I saw our little red squirrel and shortly thereafter a small group of chickadees, a female cardinal, and one pine siskin. (No house finches at all, which is quite unusual.) And then I saw the rare visitor.
The red-bellied woodpecker is a bird of the eastern U.S.; we're not far from the western edge of its range. At 9" long and with a 13-16" wingspan, it's huge compared to our more typical feeder visitors. Below for comparison is a photo of a downy woodpecker (5.5"-6.7" long) and a chickadee (4.5"-5.9") at the same suet feeder earlier in the season.
|Photo for size comparison|
As you can see in the photos, woodpeckers use their stiffened tails as extra support (usually against a tree, of course) while they excavate.
It's interesting to me that the red-bellied woodpecker has been such a rare visitor. (Of course, it could be visiting regularly on weekdays when we are not usually at home, but we never see it on the weekend and it's not likely that it knows its days of the week quite that well.) I take it to mean it is a very competent forager and can generally manage quite well on, and probably prefers, naturally available foods. But on these numbing, coldest-of-cold days, a little extra help from a local suet feeder is, apparently, quite welcome.