Woodpecker, a tree-climbing, wood-boring bird. It gets its name from the way it uses its bill to dig into trees for nesting and for food. There are more than 200 species of woodpeckers, 20 of them native to North America. The birds inhabit forested regions throughout the world, except in Australia, Madagascar, and certain South Pacific islands. Flickers and sapsuckers belong to the woodpecker family.

The woodpeckerThe woodpecker uses its bill to dig into trees for nesting and for food.

Black and white are the predominant colors among woodpeckers. Some are brilliantly marked with red, and some display yellow. In flight, woodpeckers make several quick beats, then a pause. They have raucous, often rattling or laughing, voices. In the mating season the males drum with their beaks on hollow trees and limbs, and even on metal roofs and television antennas. The sound can be heard as far as two miles (3 km) away. The bird's voice and the drumming are seldom heard except in spring.

The woodpecker is well adapted to its way of life. As an aid to climbing and clinging to trees, the feet commonly have two toes pointing forward and two pointing backward. Sharp spines in the tail feathers help brace the bird while it digs for food. The woodpecker is apparently able to hear insects and larvae in trees. The bird's strong, chisel-shaped beak and powerful neck muscles enable it to dig easily into wood.

The woodpecker's tongue can be extended far beyond the bill. The tongue usually ends in a horny, barbed tip, which is used for piercing prey, and in many species is coated with mucus to which insects stick.

The woodpecker's tongueThe woodpecker's tongue ends in a horny, barbed tip, which is used for piercing prey.

Woodpeckers live chiefly on wood-boring insects and larvae, and also eat fruits. Although sapsuckers damage trees by making a series of holes through the bark, on the whole woodpeckers do more good than harm by destroying insect pests that are difficult to control by artificial means.

Woodpeckers nest in holes in dead trees and telephone poles. They dig their nests horizontally for a short distance, then downward for 12 inches (30 cm) or more. Their abandoned nesting holes are taken over by purple martins, wrens, and other birds. Woodpecker eggs are white, commonly with glossy surfaces resembling porcelain.

WoodpeckersWoodpeckers nest in holes in dead trees and telephone poles.
North American Species

Woodpeckers form the family Picidae of the order Piciformes. North American species include:

Downy Woodpecker

The downy woodpecker is black with white spots on the back and wings, and alternating black and white stripes on the head. The male has a red patch on the back of the head. The downy woodpecker is about 6 inches (17 cm) long. It is one of the most common woodpeckers and is found as far north as southern Canada.

The downy woodpecker is Picoides pubescens.

Hairy Woodpecker

The hairy woodpecker is similar in color to the downy woodpecker but has an unspotted back. It is two to four inches (5 to 10 cm) longer and has a much longer bill. The range is about the same as that of the downy woodpecker.

The hairy woodpecker is Picoides villosus.

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

The ivory-billed woodpecker was believed to have become extinct in the mid-1900's, but in 2005 scientists claimed that they had sighted the bird in a wildlife refuge in Arkansas. The ivory-billed woodpecker is up to 20 inches (51 cm) long. The body is black with large white patches on its wings and a white stripe that extends along either side of the neck. Males have a bright red crest.

The ivory-billed woodpecker is Campephilus principalis.

Pileated Woodpecker

The pileated woodpecker inhabits dense forests from Canada to New Mexico. It is from 17 to 19 inches (43 to 50 cm) long. Both male and female have a bright red crest. The body is black with white along the edges of the wings. There are black and white stripes on the head and neck.

The pileated woodpecker is Dryocopus pileatus.

Redheaded Woodpecker

The entire head is red. The underside is white, and there are white patches on the rear part of the wings. The back and the fore part of the wings are black. The redheaded woodpecker is 8 to 9 inches (22 to 24 cm) long; it ranges from the northern United States to the Mexican border.

The redheaded woodpecker is Melanerpes erythrocephalus.