Why do Woodpeckers Peck Wood
An amazingly resilient species, woodpeckers can withstand repeated pecks up to 20 times per second on their beak. So why do woodpeckers peck wood? It’s a question many people have asked over the years. There are two main reasons: to either find food or to excavate a hole in which to nest.
To discover what is hidden at the bottom of the tree trunk, many times they’ll simply flick their tongue and lick the bark for evidence of previous meals. They are then able to peck through the bark and into the wood. Because woodpeckers have very long tongues, they’re able to place their tongue at the bottom of a tree trunk in search of insects or larvae hidden inside. Once that has been accomplished, they can use their beak as an excavating tool.
Woodpeckers also peck wood as a way to create an area in which they can nest. Their ideal home is one with a loose top layer of bark and dead, dry wood beneath it for insulation. Woodpecker pairs will drill holes into trees and continue pecking until they’ve created a small area for mating and nesting.
The most recognized woodpecker in the U.S. is the Red-Headed Woodpecker, but there are many others in North America. There are more than 150 species of woodpeckers worldwide, all displaying unique behavior and physical characteristics that enable them to peck efficiently and quickly at the trees to which they are adapted.
For example, the smallest woodpecker in North America — a Red-Breasted Sapsucker — weighs only 7 grams (which is about the weight of three pennies). The largest woodpecker — a Pileated Woodpecker — weighs 270 grams (about 9 ounces). In general, woodpeckers have small heads perched atop long, thin necks. Their bodies are supported by large feet. Woodpeckers’ bills, on the other hand, are very large and adapted to excavate wood. Their heads and bodies are covered in feathers and possess a few distinctive characteristics that help them in their feeding and excavation activities.
The Red-Breasted Sapsucker has a head shaped like an egg, with an eye that is positioned like the face of a clock. This bird also has the ability to perfectly time its pecks as it gleans insects while in flight. From time to time this woodpecker will perch on a dead tree with its legs tucked under its body, like a goose. It will then slowly and deliberately uncoil its body and begin pecking away at the surface. This behavior is known as “bombing.”
Woodpeckers have adapted to these techniques for finding food, and also for creating nests in the holes they make. The excavations they create allow them to line their nests with dry, dead wood that serves as insulation. They have large lungs that help them gulp air during flight — which allows them to be more efficient in locating food. Their tongues are often notched like a pliers, enabling them to grip on whatever it is they’re after.
Woodpeckers are adept at locating insects and larvae in the bark of trees, which they use to locate their favorite food. They also use the same technique to peck into a tree in search of wood-boring beetles, moths, bees, and other insects for their nest. They then feed on these insects by extracting them from the inside of the tree using their long beaks. The holes left by woodpeckers can be up to 2 inches deep! These excavations form part of what should be a seamless nesting area for these birds. However hole-making is not the only activity that woodpeckers perform.
While they are drilling into trees, the birds are also stimulating their brain chemicals. This is done through a mechanism that produces vibrations only heard by the parrot family of birds. Some researchers feel these factors contribute to woodpecker intelligence and ability to learn from elders.
Woodpeckers live in holes in trees or overhanging branches, made by boring into tree trunks with their beaks and tongues. Woodpeckers vary widely in their choice of nesting holes according to their habitat and the extent of tree damage around them. Some species use the holes of other animals, including squirrels, raccoons, and bats. Others dig them out themselves.
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