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 usually see woodpeckers hanging onto the side of a tree. Many woodpeckers have a black back with white sideways marks. Some have red heads or yellow chests. To find them, listen for their pecking sound.
How do they hang on? Woodpeckers have special feet. Most tree birds have 3 toes going forward, and 1 going back. Woodpeckers are different, because 2 toes go forward and 2 go back. Its like having an extra thumb to help them hold on. Their sharp claws help too. Even their tail feathers help. These feathers are very stiff, and the bird can lean on them for support. Its like having a little built in stool.
How do they find food? When they hear an insect under the bark, they peck a hole with their beaks. The woodpecker has an extra-thick skull, so he doesnt 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 attach to ants in the tree or lick up sap. The straight bill is also good for collecting nuts and berries. Many woodpeckers dont 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).
How do they have babies? Woodpeckers use their beaks to sing and drum on trees. This attracts a mate. The boys do more drumming than girls. 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.
Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) are 18" tall. This bird is pileated(or crested) with a large red feather spike on top of its head. Most of its food includes tree insects like carpenter ants and beetles. Sometimes it also eats fruits, nuts, and seeds. It is the largest woodpecker in Florida.
To Hear the Pileated Woodpecker, click here.
To Hear the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, click here.
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. Other birds and insects come to eat the sap too. Sometimes the sapsucker eats the insects that visit his sap holes. He can also eat berries. The lines of holes dont hurt the tree because the tree heals up the bottom of the holes really fast.
To hear the Yellow-shafted Flicker, click here.
Yellow-shafted Flickers (Colaptes auratus auratus) are 13" tall. The undersides of their wing feathers (the shafts) are bright yellow. Flickers are strange woodpeckers because they get their food from the ground instead of from a tree. They eat more ants than any other North American bird. They also eat other bugs, berries, and seeds (even poison ivy).
To Hear the Red-bellied Woodpecker, click here.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) are 10" tall. Their bellies are a very light red thats hard to see. Their heads have a bright red crown. They peck on wood to get tree insects, but also get bugs from the ground. They eat a lot of nuts and berries, and sometimes store food for the winter.
Source: Terres, John K. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Random House. New York: 1991
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