Woodpeckers are instantly recognizable by their unique behavior of pecking vertically on trees and poles, but how much do you really know about these outstanding birds?
- There are more than 180 species of woodpeckers worldwide, but none of them are found in Australia, Madagascar or New Zealand.
- The downy woodpecker is the most common backyard woodpecker in North America, and is one of only about two dozen woodpecker species found in the United States.
- The most common plumage colors for all woodpeckers are black, white, red and yellow. A few species also have orange, green, brown, maroon and gold in their coloration.
- A woodpecker's tongue is up to 4 inches long depending on the species, and it wraps around the skull. Many woodpeckers have barbed tongues that help them extract bugs from trees and holes.
- Most woodpeckers have zygodactyl feet, which means they have toes facing the front and toes facing the back to help them grip trees and poles vertically. They use those toes with their stiff tail feathers to brace on trees as they climb.
- Woodpeckers eat bugs, sap, fruit, nuts and seeds. In the backyard, they are often attracted to suet feeders or nut feeders.
- The two largest woodpeckers in the world are the imperial woodpecker and the ivory-billed woodpecker, but both may be extinct. The largest confirmed woodpecker is the great slaty woodpecker of Southeast Asia, which measures 20 inches long. The pileated woodpecker is the largest North American woodpecker species.
- The piculets are a type of woodpecker found South America and Asia and they are the smallest woodpeckers, measuring only 3-4 inches long depending on the species.
- Woodpeckers do not have vocal songs, and instead they drum on resonant objects such as hollow trees and logs, utility poles, chimneys, rain gutters and trash cans. Woodpeckers drum to attract mates, establish territories and otherwise communicate, and both genders are known to drum.
- Between feeding, excavating nest cavities and drumming, woodpeckers can peck up to 20 times per second, or a total of 8,000-12,000 pecks per day.
- Woodpeckers don't get headaches from pecking. They have reinforced skulls structured to spread the impact force, and their brains are tightly cushioned and protected.
- Most woodpeckers have a distinct undulating flight consisting of a few rapid wing beats followed by a quick glide when the wings are tucked against the body rather than spread like many other birds.
- The average life span of a wild woodpecker can last from 4-11 years, depending on the species.
- The greatest threats to woodpeckers include habitat loss through urban development and population sprawl, insecticide use that eliminates food sources and natural disasters such as forest fires that eliminate dead wood for feeding and nesting.
- The most well known woodpecker is the fictional Woody Woodpecker, created by artist Ben "Bugs" Hardaway in 1940. Despite his popularity, however, Woody Woodpecker is not a distinct woodpecker species.
Photo – Pileated Woodpecker © Christopher Drake