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Woodpecker

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Woodpecker Information

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Woodpecker scientific name is Picinea which is a part of the family Picidae. The subfamily Picinea has a variety of 180 birds including woodpeckers. As the name suggests, it is famous for pecking into woods. Most of the time they are found on the trunk of a tree, striking into the woods to find insects. They also peck dead woods to make nest holes where they can live.


Woodpeckers are commonly found worldwide except in a few places. These excluded areas are New Zealand, New Guinea, Australia, and polar regions. These stunning birds are amply found in Southeast Asian and South American countries. They mostly like to live in forests and woodland areas where they can get enough trees. However, only some species like the Gila woodpecker survive in rocky or desert areas. 


Some woodpeckers don't peck wood at all. They survive in the ground by making holes through the grounds to form their nests. Also, they pick up insects from the ground for a living. These woodpeckers are found in rocky and grassy mountains located in South Africa.


Woodpecker Characteristics

Woodpecker information may vary as there are multiple types. The size of woodpeckers starts from 7cm in length. Also, some woodpeckers are 50cm long! This means some woodpeckers may weigh around 0.25 oz while other types may have a weight of around 20 oz.


The colours of woodpeckers are diverse. Some are multicoloured while some have black bodies tinted with olive and brown. The common woodpeckers in Southern Asia have black bodies with white spots and yellow shades along with red feathers on the head. These colour combinations are important for camouflage.

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Except for some, most woodpeckers have short legs with zygodactyl feet. While two toes face forward, the other two are bent backwards. This toe arrangement helps them to get a good grip of the trunk and move vertically up to the tree. 


Woodpeckers have sharp and strong beaks for effective drilling into the trunk. The long sticky tongue helps them grasp insects. To prevent brain damage due to repeated drilling and pecking, woodpeckers have certain features. 


Woodpecker has a flexible and small brain. Its subdural cavity is narrow with minimal CSF which controls and restricts the movement of the brain inside the skull preventing severe brain damage. The CSF also monitors brain orientation with the skull allowing short contact. 


The skull has soft and flexible bones covering the forehead and the backside of the skull. Another special feature is the hyoid bone. This bone supports the skull as well as the spinal cord. It goes around the brain case going through both sides of the spinal cord and ends at the right nostril cavity. This bone safeguards the brain. 


Varieties of Woodpeckers

There are a variety of woodpecker species. These are distinct in size, colour, and habitat choice. The commonly found woodpeckers are the pileated woodpecker, which is around 15-18 inches long and widely found in North America. The downy woodpecker is another species found in North America, generally 6 inches long, which prefers temperate woodlands and gardens. 


Another category is the black woodpeckers that are 18 inches long and located in the woodlands of Eurasia. The 9 inches long great spotted woodpecker is popularly traced in North America, South Eurasia, mostly in temperate woodlands and gardens. Another temperate North American woodpecker is a hairy woodpecker with a length of 8-9.8 inches.


Sapsuckers feed on the sap of the trees while some survive on fruits and berries. Throughout North America to Columbia, acorn woodpeckers of 8 inches are found. These species keep a stock of food in the trunk holes for winter. The red-headed woodpecker is 7-9 inches long located in rocky areas, farmlands, and woodlands.


The aforementioned woodpeckers have four toes. But some types of woodpeckers have three toes. These come under the genus Picoides. The northern three-toed woodpeckers are found in the Southern and Northern areas of the subarctic mountains. Another three-toe type is black-back woodpeckers that are broadly located in the Central forest areas of Canada.


Across the woodlands of India and the Philippines islands, crimson-backed woodpeckers are widely available. Across the woodlands located in Eurasia, North Africa that extends up to the South, green woodpeckers are found. 


The United States has huge breeding areas for woodpeckers. The southeastern part of the States has areas for red-bellied woodpeckers. The stunning 18 inches long ivory-billed woodpeckers are found in the southern area of the United States and Cuba. However, ivory-billed woodpeckers are rare and some believe them to be extinct.


Another type of woodpecker is Wryneck which makes the subfamily Jynginea. It is known for its feature of shaking necks in response to sounds, dangers, etc. It has a grey-brown colour and survives in the brushlands and woodlands. Wrynecks mostly in old woodpecker holes. They eat ants from the ground and insects from the woods by pecking. They are generally 6.5 inches long and are found in Japan, England, and Eurasia. The red-breasted wryneck, however, lives in Africa. 


While these are only the commonly known and found woodpeckers, there are a variety of woodpeckers available all around the world. 


Lifestyle of Woodpeckers

Lifestyles are different for different species. Some woodpeckers live solitary lives while some prefer to live in a group. Their common behaviours include head shaking and sharp vocalization. They are also known for heavily drilling and pecking through the woods. Woodpeckers roam in the daylight and rest in their nest at night. 


Drumming is a common characteristic of the woodpecker bird. They peck into the wood vigorously and repeatedly. They take breaks and start drumming again. Male woodpeckers do this more often than female woodpeckers. This works like a territorial call. This is a sign to other woodpecker mates and various drumming patterns have different meanings that the species understand. 


Their voice is high-pitched and different woodpeckers have diverse ways of calling. Some woodpeckers make rattling sounds while the other species whistle. Some species wail and scream. Some other woodpeckers make nasal churrs. However, each type of calling pattern carries a message to the fellow woodpeckers. Some calls denote danger while some calls indicate a call for food. 


Woodcutter bird often makes low-pitched sounds as well. Woodpecker couples usually make low-pitched sounds when they are in the nest. The interval between each call also carries a message to the other woodpeckers. 


Feeding of Woodpeckers

As mentioned before, more woodpeckers survive on picking insects either from the woods or the ground. They mostly collect insects like ants, termites, caterpillars, beetles, spiders, lizards, bird eggs, arthropods, tiny rodents, etc. However, some woodpeckers prefer to eat fruits and nuts that they also keep in stock for the winter. Woodpeckers rarely eat crustaceans, molluscs, or carrion. 


Some woodpeckers are able to catch flying insects. Some of them also collect insects from leaves, under the barks, and other parts of the tree. They also directly attack the nests of the insects like ants and termites. Also, some species fully rely on gathering insects from under the ground. 


Interesting woodpecker facts include their ability to stop a mass infestation in the trees. As they feed on the insects, it keeps an ecological balance that keeps the trees free from infestation. Not only from the outside of the trees but they also collect insects from inside the bark by making a tiny hole and sucking the insect by their sticky tongues. This helps to keep the core of the tree free from infestations.


Some woodpeckers also feed on the tree sap. Mainly, the sapsuckers drill through the woods and collect sap from the trunks. Acorn woodpeckers and white-headed woodpeckers also feed on the sap of trees. Arabian woodpeckers and great spotted woodpeckers are other categories that feed on tree sap. 


The Breeding Pattern of Woodpeckers

The main features of woodpecker include making holes in the barks and making nests inside the holes. They mostly choose rotten or dead woods to make such nests. In places where there are inadequate trees, they make nests in large cacti. Some woodpeckers fully rely on the ground making holes under the earth and live there.


Some woodpeckers also make nests in the bamboo forests. Some occupy the nests of termites and ants. In urban areas, they choose wooden utility poles to make their nests. However, wrynecks are unable to make their own nests. They need to find a premade nest to settle. Woodpecker usually collect wood pieces to make the nest. They make flooring with these wood pieces inside the hole. 


Premade holes are often occupied by other woodpeckers and thus there remains a constant competition to make a nest. Even other birds like sparrows may start breeding the holes and in such situations, woodpeckers need to fight violently to take over the place. 


Most woodpeckers are monogamous while only a few species are polygamous. In rare cases, a group of woodpeckers may take care of the young. Researchers say that group breeding is more successful than individual breeding. 


Fun Facts

  1. Did you know that a woodpecker protects trees from infestations? It maintains ecological balance by collecting insects from the outside and inside the trees. This prevents mass infestation in trees protecting them from damage.

  2. A Woodpecker is the only species in the animal kingdom that can make sounds that aren't inside from their body. They drum in various ways on different things to send signals to the other woodpeckers. Each drumming pattern carries different messages.

  3. Though we get to see only a few types of woodpeckers, there are around 200 different species of woodpeckers!

  4. Woodpeckers need at least a month to drill a big enough hole to make the nest.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Why Do Woodpeckers Drum?

A Woodpecker is one of the most beautiful and fascinating birds out there in the wild. Woodpeckers drum using their sharp and strong beaks for various reasons. The primary task of drumming is to alert the fellow woodpeckers and each drumming pattern carries a specific message. They usually drum to draw the attention of their partner or give an indication about where they live. Woodpeckers drum into the tree bark to collect insects from the trunks. They also drum systematically to make holes into the bark where they make their nests. These three are the main reasons for drumming into the tree barks. 

2. Is it Good to Have Woodpeckers Around Us?

Woodpeckers maintain ecological balance. They protect trees from damage as they eat pests. Infestations in trees can be prevented as woodpeckers feed on the insects. The infestation of tree leaves, branches, and inside the trunks are eaten by the woodpeckers that help them to survive for a longer time as the mass infestation is stopped. Also, you can enjoy the interesting pattern of drumming and drilling into the trunks by the woodpeckers. It is a blissful experience to have woodpeckers around. Therefore, the Woodpecker species must be protected so that they continue to thrive in our society.

3. What are the Common Habitats of Woodpeckers?

As we already know what is woodpecker, we have known that they survive by picking into the woods. So most woodpeckers prefer to live in woody areas. They are popularly found in tropical rainforests. However, they live in the woodlands, farmlands, savannahs, bamboo forests, scrublands, etc. There are a few species that prefer living in desert areas and grasslands where large trees are rare. Some feed and live on cactus. Interestingly, some woodpeckers are selective about the tree they choose to peck. Woodpeckers search for dead woods for making holes and live there. 


There is also a common fact about woodpecker as explained by the researchers. It is said that species like the Black woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker, middle spotted woodpecker, lesser spotted woodpecker, European green woodpecker, and Eurasian three-toed woodpecker find deadwood areas as they peck through the wood to make their nests.