Woodpeckers are a type of bird from the Picidae family known for the signature sound they make when drumming on trees when foraging for insects. There are approximately 200 species of woodpeckers, and they can range in size from just over 3 inches long for the Bar-breasted Piculet variety, to 20 inches long and over 1lb for the Great Slaty Woodpecker of Asia. Woodpeckers can be found on every continent expect Australia and Antarctica.
Woodpeckers feed by boring holes in trees with their bills to extract insects and larvae. They can accomplish this by having extremely strong bills and long, sticky tongues covered in bristles, allowing the birds to extract insects from very deep inside a tree.
However, all of that hammering has got to give you a headache, right? Well, woodpeckers have evolved over the years to adapt to this physical type of foraging without hurting themselves. For example, the woodpecker has a relatively small brain, and it is set within the bird’s skull so as to maximize the area of contact, reducing the risk of brain damage. Woodpeckers also have special membranes over their eyes that close a millisecond before contact with the wood to protect them, and special feathers to shield their nostrils from flying debris.
Woodpeckers have four toes on each foot, two facing forward and two facing backwards. This arrangement is ideal for grasping tree trunks and branches. In addition, these birds have very strong and stiff tails, which can be used as a prop when foraging for food.
All types of woodpeckers nest in cavities, usually dug into trees by the birds themselves. It usually takes about a month to excavate a nest, and some only use a cavity for one breeding season before moving on. The nests are usually then taken over by other birds. Most woodpeckers choose only a single mate, with males and females taking turns incubating their eggs. Chicks are usually born after two weeks of incubation, and are ready to leave the nest within a month.
Woodpeckers are omnivorous, and will often supplement their insect diet by foraging the forest floor for fruit and nuts.
Larger woodpeckers can make holes so large they can cause small trees to break in half.
Woodpeckers can walk vertically up a tree trunk.