Basic Facts About Woodpeckers

Woodpeckers are known for tapping on tree trunks in order to find insects living in crevices in the bark and to excavate nest cavities. There are over 180 species of woodpeckers, all in the family Picidae.

Woodpecker, © Helmut Mueller

© Helmut Mueller


Woodpeckers primarily eat insects, along with fruit, acorns and nuts.


Due to their international dispersal, overall woodpecker population numbers are unknown. There have been reported sightings of at least one ivory-billed woodpecker in the last five years, while red-cockaded woodpecker populations are estimated to between 5,000 and 10,000 individuals throughout its range.


Did You Know?

Woodpeckers have bristle-like feathers over their nostrils help to keep wood particles from being inhaled.

Woodpeckers can be found in wooded areas all over the world, except in Australia. The ivory-billed woodpecker was rediscovered in Arkansas in 2006. According to scientists, there may be a second population in the cypress forests of Florida’s panhandle. The red-cockaded woodpecker can be found through the southeast of the United States from Texas to the Atlantic Coast and north to Virginia.


The woodpecker's strong, pointed beak acts as both a chisel and a crowbar to remove bark and find hiding insects. It has a very long tongue, up to four inches in some species - with a glue-like substance on the tip for catching insects.

While most birds have one toe pointing back and three pointing forward on each foot, woodpeckers have two sharply clawed toes pointing in each direction to help them grasp the sides of trees and balance while they hammer - this formation is called zygodactal feet. Many woodpecker species also have stiffened tail feathers, which they press against a tree surface to help support their weight.

Woodpeckers live in wooded areas and forests, where they tap on tree trunks in order to find insects living in crevices in the bark and to excavate nest cavities. Some species drum on trees to communicate to other woodpeckers and as a part of their courtship behavior. Woodpeckers tap an estimated 8,000-12,000 times per day. Some species require very specific conditions for their home. For example, the red-cockaded woodpecker can only live in mature pine forests in the southeastern United States.


Mating Season: Varies by species.
Gestation: Varies by species.
Clutch size Around 4 eggs.

Male and female woodpeckers work together to excavate a cavity in a tree that is used as a nest and to incubate eggs for about two weeks. When a woodpecker hatches, it is blind and does not have any feathers. One parent brings food to the nest while the other parent stays with the young. The young generally leave the nest after 25 - 30 days.