17 Interesting Facts About Woodpeckers

Woodpeckers are different from any other type of bird. The way they behave, the way they look, and just how they live and survive is so unique and interesting. In this article we’re going to answer a bunch common questions about these cool birds by giving you 21 interesting facts about woodpeckers. 

Enjoy!

17 interesting facts about woodpeckers

1. Woodpeckers don’t get headaches 

Woodpeckers have a special bone in their head called the hyoid bone. This special bone unique to woodpeckers wraps around their entire skull inside their heads and adds a sort of shock protection. This protects them from “headaches” or injuring themselves when they are repeatedly smashing their heads up against a tree, sometimes for hours. 

2. Woodpeckers usually prefer dead trees 

While most woodpeckers are certainly capable of boring a hole through a live tree, many times they prefer dead trees. Woodpeckers like dead or dying trees where the heartwood is already soft, this makes it easier for them to excavate out their nest cavities. In addition, if the wood is soft then many types of larvae and insects may be lurking within the tree, so they have more opportunities for food.

3. Sometimes woodpeckers feed at hummingbird feeders 

Woodpeckers may also like the taste of the sweet hummingbird nectar. This past Spring and Summer, I had more Downy Woodpeckers at my hummingbird feeders than I did actual hummingbirds!

4. A group of woodpeckers is called a descent

Many different types of birds have their own names when it comes to a group, or flock, of them. Just like a flock of crows is called a murder, or a flock of hawks is called a kettle, a group of woodpeckers is called a “descent”.

5. Woodpeckers have really long tongues

There are only a few types of birds with really long tongues that wrap around their eye sockets allowing them to extend them out much further than other birds. Woodpeckers along with hummingbirds and even orioles are among these birds with long tongues. These special adaptations allow all 3 of these types of birds to drink from hummingbird feeders. Some species of woodpeckers have tongues that are up to 4″ long!

6. Acorn Woodpeckers have an advanced social system

Acorn Woodpecker | Image: pixabay.com

Most of the time woodpeckers are solitary birds, but the Acorn Woodpecker has a very intricate social and family structure with other woodpeckers. Unlike other types of woodpeckers, Acorn Woodpeckers will live in groups of 10-16 other birds. They will cooperatively breed within the group, hoard food by jamming nuts into holes in trees, and work as a team to guard their food caches by using warnings signs and communication with each other. 

7. Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest woodpeckers in North America

Unless you count the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, which is long thought to be extinct but not yet officially extinct, Pileated Woodpeckers are the biggest. They are around 16-19 inches in length and are about the size of crows. They are impossible to mistake for other types of woodpeckers because of their size and appearance, though people sometimes mistakenly call them Red-headed Woodpeckers which are another species and are much smaller.

8. Woodpeckers don’t peck at night

Woodpeckers are diurnal animals, so they roost at night and are mostly quiet. That’s not to say they won’t be up at the crack of dawn hammering away on the side of your house though! So if you’re having woodpecker problems then it’s good to know that you’ll at least be able to sleep at night. 

9. Sapsuckers don’t actually suck the sap, they lick it

As I mentioned above, everyone in the woodpecker family has an exceptionally long tongue, this includes sapsuckers. Members of the sapsucker variety don’t actually suck the sap though, they bore out sapwells in trees then they stick their long tongues in and sip and lick at the sap. 

10. Woodpeckers don’t eat wood

Even though many people may think that woodpeckers eat wood, similar to how beavers eat wood, they actually don’t. Woodpeckers simply use their beaks as a tool to dig out holes into wood which allows them to excavate nesting holes or get insects and insect larvae from the hole. 

11. Some types of woodpeckers will eat baby birds

Some species of woodpeckers, like the Great Spotted Woodpecker, are omnivores and will even eat other bird eggs or babies on occasion. A Gila Woodpecker was caught on camera killing and eating baby bird’s brains in a nest. For most woodpeckers though, they generally keep to themselves and are not aggressive, however they will protect themselves and their own young fiercely if necessary.

12. There are over 200 species of woodpeckers in the world

No one seems to agree just how many species are in the family Picidae, but one things is clear, there definitely over 200. Brittanica.com says that 210 species have been recorded, Wikipedia cites that the International Ornithological Society reports that 236 species have bee discovered. While other sources such as PSU.edu are saying as many as 300 exist.. 

13. Woodpeckers have special climbing feet

credit: Darekk2 | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

Most types of woodpeckers have Zygodactyl feet that are highly adapted for climbing. Zygodactyl feet have two toes in the front and two toes in the back which allow the woodpecker to grip the tree in a way that allows very quick vertical and horizontal movements, as well as increased leverage for pecking. 

14. Some woodpeckers even live in cacti

The Gila Woodpecker lives in the Sonoran Desert in parts of Southern California, Nevada, and Arizona. These hardy woodpeckers have adapted to life in the desert and will nest in the giant saguaros. The Saguaro Cactus can live up to 200 years, reach heights of 50 feet tall, and weight 5000+ pounds when it’s fully hydrated. In addition to providing shelter for the Gila Woodpeckers, the birds will also eat the fruit that the cactus bares. 

Gila Woodpecker on cactus

15. Woodpeckers peck on gutters because they like the sound

Woodpeckers regularly do something called “drumming” on metal gutters, and it can be very loud. They do this for several reasons, mainly to mark their territory or attract a mate. So if you hear or see a woodpecker drumming on your gutters then you may have a breeding pair nearby. 

16. A woodpecker’s beak never wears down

Woodpeckers, unlike other birds, have special regenerative cells at the end of their beaks so they are constantly regrowing if needed. With very sharp, chisel-like beaks, woodpeckers are estimated to peck as much as 12,000 times in a single day. This is yet another special adaptation of the woodpecker. 

17. In some places, woodpeckers are associated with bad luck and death

Many times woodpeckers are associated with wisdom and knowledge, but in traditions of eastern Slavic people, a woodpecker can symbolize death or bad luck. A woodpecker’s drumming is said to announce a death. So if you want a spiritual meaning of what the drumming on your gutters means, there you go. As we mentioned above though, the drumming is for communication. 

About Jesse

Jesse enjoys bird watching and feeding birds in his backyard, learning about the different species, and sharing his knowledge and experiences.

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