A Red-bellied Woodpecker displays a nut he foraged.

Fumble and Search


The young woodpecker made a proud show of his loot.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are well equipped to forage. Their bills are built to chisel, hammer, and drill. They have long, sticky tongues with barbed tips—perfect for reaching into crevices and pulling out prey.

These birds are omnivores, happy to eat seeds, nuts, fruit, and meat. They’re both aggressive and tenacious. A few months ago, I filmed a Red-bellied Woodpecker pounding the life out of a bat before flying it away for consumption. At feeders, these woodpeckers will swipe peanuts from under squirrels’ noses. And when they find a hard-shelled seed or nut, they know exactly what to do: Wedge it into a tree crevice and hammer. They’ll catch the pieces with a cupped wing or trap them in belly and breast feathers pressed into the tree.

So, when the immature woodpecker leaned into a crevice with a nut in his bill, I expected to see a speedy pound-and-swallow maneuver.

Instead, I saw a fumble.

He inserted the nut… which disappeared. It seems this youngster had overestimated the size of the crevice.

What followed was pretty comical, as the woodpecker peered and poked, searching for his lost treasure. Take a look:

Eventually, he gave up. I’ve seen a similar bird several times since, likely the same fellow or a sibling. But not very often. My hypothesis: He has discovered the easy pickings provided by my neighbors’ feeders. No crevice-pounding required.

2 thoughts on “Fumble and Search”

    1. Thank you, Joette. I just love watching, filming, and learning about all my neighborhood critters. Nothing I ever, ever would have predicted in our way-back teenage years!

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