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Woodpeckers can be found all throughout the United States. They’re most known for their drumming and leaving behind holes in wood. Although some may create loud noises and can even drill against homes and buildings, they shouldn’t primarily be seen as pests.
While most species are a common sight to see, woodpeckers are special birds that play an important role in their ecosystems. The following facts will show just how amazing these birds are.
Woodpeckers belong to the large Picidae family, and you can find them living in all parts of the world except for Australia and New Guinea. South America and Southeast Asia have the greatest abundance of Woodpecker species.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has recorded 40 woodpecker species to be near threatened, vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. The most prominent cause of decreasing woodpeckers is habitat destruction.
The following woodpeckers are endangered or critically endangered:
The Bermuda Flicker was most recently assessed in 2016 and was documented as extinct in 2017.
These sets make it easier for woodpeckers to grip onto tree bark more easily than other birds. Cuckoos and parrots also have zygodactyl feet.
Woodpeckers have tails that help them stay anchored vertically to trees. These tails are particularly stiff, so woodpeckers can lean and rely on them to support their body weight. All woodpecker species have these stiff tails, except for piculets and wrynecks.
Woodpeckers can hit their head against trees about 20 times a second. However, this repeated thumping doesn’t do damage to their heads because of how they’re specially designed to absorb impact.
Woodpeckers have particularly strong necks to support their heads, and their skulls also have extra muscles that cushion and protect their brains. They essentially have a built-in helmet to prevent injury as they rap against hard tree bark repeatedly.
While woodpeckers have heavily padded skulls, their beaks are actually their first line of defense against injury as they hammer into trees. Woodpecker beaks have a regenerative feature where they can repair small splits and cracks, similar to how our nails regrow throughout our lifetime.
The beaks also act as shock absorbers because they’re slightly flexible and also have a foam-like inner layer. They’re designed to distribute the force of impact so that they don’t receive as much damage.
As an extra measure of protection, woodpeckers also have hair-like feathers near their nostrils. These feathers protect and prevent them from inhaling any sort of sawdust and small debris as they drill through trees.
As if all this protection isn’t enough, woodpeckers also use their inner eyelid, the nictitating membrane, to shield their eyes. This membrane is see-through and works like a pair of goggles that deflect any flying wood chips.
While dead trees and branches may look unsightly, they’re actually full of life. Many insects like to hide in the crevices of these decaying trees, making them the perfect feeding ground for woodpeckers.
Along with snacking on insects, woodpeckers like to use dead trees to store their food. They’ll drill holes and place acorns and other seeds and nuts inside them for later use.
Woodpeckers have extremely long tongues in comparison to their bodies. The Green Woodpecker has a tongue so long that it wraps around its skull. The tongue is a third of the bird’s body length and coils behind the skull, goes over the eyes, and through the right nostril.
Woodpeckers use their tongues similarly to anteaters and pangolins. Since many species of woodpeckers are insectivores, they use their long tongues to excavate and scoop up ants and other small insects.
The Pileated Woodpecker can grow up to 16-19 inches in length, which is similar to the length of a crow. Along with their large size, they’re known for their entirely red crest.
You can find Pileated Woodpeckers in some parts of the Pacific Northwest, northern California, and the eastern half of the US. They prefer living in coniferous and mature deciduous forests.
The famous Woody the Woodpecker was inspired by the Pileated Woodpecker.
Downy Woodpeckers share similar features with most woodpeckers. They have some red feathers on their crowns and have streaks of black and white feathers. Their bills are on the shorter side, but they’re still effective drillers.
Because of their small size, they’re more agile than bigger woodpecker species and are very nimble when it comes to maneuvering around trees. Despite being compact, Downy Woodpeckers can actually be quite loud and are especially noisy in the spring and summer.
Fortunately, Woodpeckers are diurnal, so they’re most active during the day. They’re polite neighbors that will roost and go into their nests at nightfall. So, you don’t have to deal with their loud drumming while you’re trying to fall asleep.
Sapsuckers are a type of woodpecker that like to peck holes into trees that produce excessive amounts of sap. Despite their name, they don’t actually suck up the sap. Instead, they lick it up with their long tongues.
This type of woodpecker is also known for being neat and organized with its drilling. You’ll know if you have a sapsucker in your vicinity if you can see a trail of neatly lined up rows of holes on trees.
While woodpeckers are known for stuffing acorns in the holes they’ve drilled, they can store insects in these holes as well. Woodpeckers are experts at finding holes made by bugs and drilling at them until they can reach them.
Red-Headed Woodpeckers are known to trap live insects, such as grasshoppers, in tight inescapable cracks in trees. They’re also territorial and can act aggressively toward other woodpeckers and birds to protect their territory.
While the woodpecker has many talents, singing isn’t one of them. They can make loud caws and calls, but they’re not pleasant, like songbirds.
However, woodpeckers are extraordinary drummers and can drum against trees and other objects about 8,000 times a day. Sometimes, woodpeckers try to be as loud as possible to attract mates and can even rap their beaks against metal drainage pipes. It’s a good thing they’re diurnal so that we aren’t kept up at night from all the noise they can create.
Woodpeckers have a powerful set of ears that help them hunt for insects. They can hear the sounds that insects make as they travel underneath the bark of deadwood. Woodpeckers can even detect and pinpoint the sound of insects chewing. Then, they’ll expertly peck away to break through the wood to excavate these hidden insects.
Some species of birds are monogamous, including some types of woodpeckers. These woodpeckers tend to be very paternal and will work together to raise generations of offspring together.
Woodpeckers find mates by attracting them through drumming. Drumming also sets parameters for a male woodpecker’s territory, which can be attractive to female woodpeckers.
Woodpeckers are talented birds that can help control insect populations. Their expertise in drilling holes also provides nests and homes for other birds and animals. They play a crucial role in helping the health of their ecosystems. So, the next time you hear a woodpecker tapping in the distance, make sure to take some time to appreciate all they do for the environment.
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Featured Image Credit: Laura Mountainspring, Shutterstock
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Jessica is a freelance writer who spends most of her day researching and writing a number of topics. She loves sharing helpful information that people can use to better understand their pets, nature and the world around them. When she isn't writing, you may find her walking dogs, tending to her plant babies, or drinking her nth cup of coffee.
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