HOW CAN YOU TELL IF A BIRD IS A WOODPECKER?  The most famous woodpecker is the Pileated (pill-ee-ate-ed) Woodpecker, better known as Woody Woodpecker.  You can see woodpeckers hanging onto the side of a tree.  Many woodpeckers have a black back with white marks.  Some have red heads or yellow chests.  Listen for pecking. 

HOW DO THEY HANG ON TO TREES?   Woodpeckers have special feet with 2 backwards toes instead of just one.  That’s like having an extra thumb to help them hold on.  Their sharp claws help too.  A woodpecker’s stiff tail feathers let him lean back and rest on his tail. 

HOW DO THEY FIND FOOD?   When they hear a bug under the bark, they peck a hole with their beaks.  The woodpecker has an extra-thick skull, so he doesn’t get a headache from all that pecking.  His beak is long, straight, and pointy, good for making holes.  His tongue is extremely long with a sharp end for spiking bugs inside the tree.  This tongue is also sticky, so it can stick to ants in the tree or lick up sap.  The straight bill is also good for collecting nuts and berries.  Many woodpeckers don’t migrate (fly south for the winter).  They live in a warm tree hole all year and eat the bugs that live underneath the bark.  They can also go to bird feeders for peanut butter and suet (prepared cow fat). 

WHAT ABOUT WOODPECKER BABIES?   Woodpeckers use their beaks to sing and drum on trees.  This attracts a mate.   After they find a mate, both the boy and girl help to peck a hole in a tree.   They tunnel down into the tree 1-2 feet, then make a wood chip nest at the bottom.   Both the girl and the boy take turns sitting on the eggs and feeding the babies.  


Terres, John K.  The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds.  Random House.  New York:  1991.

Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus  pileatus) are 18” tall. This bird is pileated (or crested) with a large red feather spike on top of its head.  It eats ants, beetles, fruits, nuts, and seeds.  It is the largest woodpecker in Fl.

Click to hear the Pileated Woodpecker’s song.






Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus varius) are 9” tall.  They have light-yellow bellies, and most of their food is sap.  The holes they peck in trees are usually in straight lines.  Sap comes out of the holes, and they lick it up with their bristly tongue. 

Click to hear the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’s song.





Yellow-shafted Flickers (Colaptes auratus auratus) are 13” tall.  The undersides of their wing feathers (the shafts) are bright yellow.  Flickers get their food from the ground instead of from a tree, mainly ants. They also eat bugs, berries, and seeds (even poison ivy).

Click to hear the Yellow-shafted Flicker’s song.






Red-bellied Woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) are 10” tall.   It’s hard to see their light red bellies.   Look for their red crowns instead.  They get bugs from trees and the ground.  They eat a lot of nuts and berries, and sometimes store food for the winter.


Click to hear the Red Bellied Woodpecker’s song.




Terres, John K. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Random House. New York: 1991.

Provided by the Pelotes Island Nature Preserve

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