Adults are mainly light gray on the face and underparts; they have black and white barred patterns on their back, wings and tail. Adult males have a red headside going from the bill to the nape; females have a red patch on the nape and another above the bill. The reddish tinge on the belly that gives the bird its name is difficult to see in field identification. They are 9 to 10.5 inches long, and have a wingspan of 15 to 18 inches.

Habitat and Distribution

The bird breeds in southern Canada and the northeastern United States, ranging as far south as Florida and as far west as Texas.


These birds mainly search out arthropods on tree trunks. They may also catch insects in flight. They are omnivores, eating insects, fruits, nuts and seeds.


Breeding season begins in early May. The birds nest in the decayed cavities of dead trees, old stumps, or in live trees that have softer wood such as elms, maples, or willows. Both sexes assist in digging nesting cavities. The young fledge after 24 to 26 days.

Calls and Songs

Calls have been described as sounding like churr-churr-churr or thrraa-thrraa-thrraa with an alternating br-r-r-r-t sound. Babies have a high-pitched begging call of pree-pree-pree.