February 2018

No hanging chads this election cycle

Published originally in December 2000, this column was inspired by the hanging chads of Florida.

Red bellied woodpecker, aka a chad. (C) Dreamstime/Wildphotos

Who’d have thought!

A chad has been foraging the birdfeeders. Rather than dimpled or hanging, this one is of the striped variety, with feathers and a red head.

Chad is one of the common names for the red-bellied woodpecker, also called the zebra woodpecker or the ramshack.

For the past few weeks, the woodpecker has been joining the juncos, finches, sparrows, chickadees, titmice, jays, doves and cardinals for snacks of safflower seeds.

The red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) is about 9 inches long and seems to prefer seeds, nuts and berries, although it also will eat insects. Among its favorite fruit: bayberry, dogwood, Virginia creeper, wild grape, wild cherry, elderberry and poison ivy. For nuts, it likes beech, hickory, pine and hazelnut.

The red-bellied woodpecker used to be found only in the southeast United States (Florida?), but now is considered a permanent resident throughout the eastern part of the country, except for New England.

Why this bird is called red-bellied, I don’t know.

It has a flush of orange-red on the tummy, but this is hardly noticeable compared to the blotch of red on its head. Both males and females have the red heads, with the male’s coloring extending to his bill.

Just to confuse things even more, there’s a red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes ertyhrocephalus), which is about the same size but with a solid red head. The rest of the body has a color-block design of black and white.

None of these looks like Woody Woodpecker, the ha-ha-ha-ha-ha cartoon character we’re most familiar with. Woody is patterned after the pileated woodpecker, which ranges from 16 to 20 inches long and has that distinctive plume of red feathers atop its head. On rare occasions, these will visit the feeders, too.

Other woodpeckers frequenting my feeders are the downy and hairy, which look about identical to me. The downy is about 6 inches long and the hairy is nine. The books say the downy’s bill is about half as long as its head while the hairy’s bill is about the same length as its head. The tenths of an inch difference in bill size is hard to discern even with binoculars.



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