Woodpeckers are tree-dwelling birds of the family Picidae, comprising subfamilies like Picumninae (piculets), Jynginae (wrynecks), and Picinae (sapsuckers). Their long, sharp bills that they use for pecking and drilling on trees help in distinguishing them from other bird species. They typically nest in the holes that they make in branches and tree trunks.
List of Common Types of Woodpecker Species
the International Ornithologists’ Union, the family Picidae consists of 236
recognized species of woodpeckers, which are categorized under 35 genera. Here
are some of the commonly found woodpecker species:
Physical Description and Appearance
Size: Woodpeckers vary in size, ranging
from tiny piculets of length 7cm (2.8in) to the great slaty woodpecker
measuring 48-58cm (19-23in). The possibly-extinct ivory-billed woodpecker and
imperial woodpecker were larger than the great slaty woodpecker.
Weight: While the smallest piculets weigh
just 7g (0.25oz), the largest surviving great slaty woodpeckers’ weight is
Color: Their plumage can vary from dull to
conspicuous, with some species having an olive and brown base while some are
pied. Many species have a bold pattern of white, black, and red, while others
have tufted feathers or a crest on their crown.
Skull: They have strong, spongy,
compressible bones that are mostly concentrated at the back of the skull and in
Beak: Their bills are sharp and strong,
having a chisel-like tip suitable for the pecking action on wood. The beak is
made up of three layers, including a scaly outer sheath formed from keratin, a
middle layer consisting of porous bones, and an inner bony layer with collagen
fibers and a large cavity.
Feet: They possess zygodactyl feet,
meaning they have four toes, which are arranged such that the first and fourth
face backward, while the second and third face forward.
The range of
distribution of woodpeckers extends across the globe, although they are not
found in Antarctica, Australasia, and Madagascar. Picumninae piculets live in
Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America while the Nesoctitinae piculets occur
in the Caribbean Island of Hispaniola. The wrynecks are found in Asia, Africa,
What kind of Habitats are they found in
being arboreal birds, occur in wooded habitats. The different habitats occupied
by various woodpecker species include savannahs, scrublands, woodlands, grasslands,
deserts, and bamboo forests. Forest-dwelling woodpeckers typically need dead or
rotting wood on which they can forage.
How long do they live
In the wild,
the average lifespan of woodpeckers can range between 4 and 12 years. However,
larger woodpecker species may live for 20-30 years when kept in ideal
What do they eat
are omnivores, feeding mostly on insects like ants, beetles, termites,
caterpillars, spiders, and mealybugs. They also eat fruits, nuts, acorns, pine
seeds, berries, and tree sap. However, their exact diet depends upon the
availability of food in an area that they inhabit.
woodpeckers prefer living a solitary life. While some are highly aggressive
towards members of their species, others live in groups.
birds remain active during the day, and they roost at night in tree cavities
use ‘drumming’ as a means of non-vocal communication, for which they strike
their bill repeatedly on wood. They use this rhythmic pattern of beats as a
territorial call, with the males doing it more frequently than the females.
also use drumming for recognizing their mates during courtship.
woodpecker species produces its unique range of calls, including brief
high-pitched trills, rattles, whistling, twittering, whistling, wails, and
screams. These calls are used during territorial disputes, courtship, and for
raising the alarm.
excavate holes on living and dead trees to obtain tree saps, insects and their
hyoid bone or tongue-bone of woodpeckers is long and spongy, winding around
their skull through a cavity. It helps in cushioning the brain and absorbing
the impact of drilling.
strong feet and the alignment of their toes are designed explicitly for
clinging and grasping onto tree trunks and branches.
have feathers over their nose that helps in preventing inhalation of wood
particles when excavating holes in trees.
have a long, sticky tongue, with bristles that are useful for grabbing and pulling
out insects and their grubs from deep within a cavity in a tree.
translucent eyelid, called nictitating membrane, helps protect their eyes from
all the debris when drilling holes in the wood.
How do they Reproduce and Mate
breeding season, woodpeckers and piculets excavate their nests while wrynecks
search for pre-existing cavities. A nest typically has a round entrance and a
large vertical chamber below. It takes about 30 days to finish excavating a
pair usually works together in drilling the nest, incubating the eggs, and then
raising their offspring. In most woodpecker species, the males perform most of
the excavation and then incubate the eggs at night. After the nest is built, a
clutch of 2-5 white eggs is laid, which are incubated for roughly 11-14 days.
Once the eggs hatch, the chicks take approximately 18-30 days to fledge and
leave the nest.
belonging to the family Picidae are mostly monogamous, meaning a woodpecker has
one partner throughout its life. However, a few species like the West Indian
woodpecker and the lesser spotted woodpecker have a polygamous mating system.
Among the different bird families, the woodpecker is the only family to have fewer species threatened with extinction. A few species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker and the Okinawa woodpecker, are at risk as their population is reduced due to deforestation, agricultural development, and construction of roads, buildings, and golf courses. Conservation efforts for the red-cockaded woodpecker in the US have included the construction of artificial cavities in the longleaf pines.
1. Why do woodpeckers peck wood?
into trees to search for food, produce a nesting site, attract mates, and
establish their territory.
2. Do woodpeckers migrate?
woodpeckers are sedentary birds, but a few species like the yellow-bellied
sapsucker, Rufous-bellied woodpecker, and Eurasian wryneck migrate in the
3. Do woodpeckers kill trees?
cause economic losses, as some sapsuckers excavate cavities in live ornamental
or fruit trees.
4. Do woodpeckers peck at night?
No, they are
5. What predators may eat
foxes, large predatory birds, rats, and snakes are their common predators.
A few woodpecker species, like the ground woodpecker and Andean flicker, have abandoned the trees completely and inhabit holes in the ground.
For drumming, woodpeckers select a surface that resonates, like a hollow tree, downpipes, and gutters.
The spongy bones of their skull have inspired engineers to design black box (flight recorders) in such a way that it can withstand a crash.