- A-Z Animals
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.
According to 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:
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 360-563g (12.7-19.9oz).
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 the forehead.
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, and Europe.
Woodpeckers, 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.
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 conditions.
Woodpeckers 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.
During the 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 nest.
A breeding 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.
Members 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?
They peck into trees to search for food, produce a nesting site, attract mates, and establish their territory.
2. Do woodpeckers migrate?
Most woodpeckers are sedentary birds, but a few species like the yellow-bellied sapsucker, Rufous-bellied woodpecker, and Eurasian wryneck migrate in the winter.
3. Do woodpeckers kill trees?
They can cause economic losses, as some sapsuckers excavate cavities in live ornamental or fruit trees.
4. Do woodpeckers peck at night?
No, they are diurnal birds.
5. What predators may eat woodpeckers?
Wild cats, foxes, large predatory birds, rats, and snakes are their common predators.