Sandy brown on belly, throat, chin, and sides of face; light reddish wash on the belly; black-and-white barring on the back and wings. The female has a red nape and a sandy-brown crown. The male has a red nape and crown. 24 cm (9.25 in) in length.
The breeding season begins in mid-April, peaks later that month until mid-May, and extends to early July. This woodpecker prefers to nest in a variety of forested areas. The Red-bellied Woodpecker excavates its own nesting cavity or uses a cavity already made, usually less than 40 feet high in a snag, utility pole, or sometimes a nest box. The female lays 3-8 (usually 4-5) eggs that the adults incubate for 12-14 days. The male does most of the incubation during the night. The young are altricial and stay in the nest cavity until 24-27 days after hatching. Both adults care for the young while they are in the nest.
Forests and wooded areas are the favorite habitat of this woodpecker. Their diet includes insects, fruits, nuts, and seeds. They are also known to be nest predators, commonly taking nestlings and eggs from other cavity nests. They use their stiff tail and distinctly arranged toes (two toes pointing forward and two toes facing backward) to balance as they move up and down tree trunks and branches to pick prey off trees. They will also eat on the ground or from bird feeders in more urban areas.
The Red-bellied Woodpecker occurs in the eastern half of the United States, except in the extreme northern states. In the Southeast, it is common throughout most of the area except the mountains and extreme southern Florida.
This species is known to take over cavities drilled by the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. When cavities or trees with cavities are scarce, the Red-bellied Woodpecker is a dominant species and it will take the only cavities available, pushing out the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. This can cause problems for the Endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. The Red-bellied Woodpecker is common, and is not listed as Threatened or Endangered in any part of its southeastern range.
The species which are most similar in the Southeast are the Northern Flicker and the Red-headed Woodpecker. The Northern Flicker looks more brown overall, does not have the red nape or crown, has a large white rump patch, and has a black bib. The Red-headed Woodpecker is similar in size to the Red-bellied Woodpecker, but has a completely red head and a very striking black and white body pattern, with black on the tail, outer flight feathers, and main portion of the wing.