Woodpecker – Tireless Forest Worker

The article is written by Pavlo Chaika, the chief editor of the "Piznavayka" magazine. Since its founding in 2013, Pavlo Chaika has been dedicated to popularizing science in the world. The main goal, both of the magazine and of this article, is to explain complex scientific topics in a simple and accessible language.



  • Description and Characteristics

  • Habitat

  • Sound

  • Lifespan

  • Diet

  • Enemies

  • Habits

  • Where Do Woodpeckers Go in the Winter

  • Species

  • Reproduction

  • Interesting and Fun Facts

  • References and Further Reading

    Woodpeckers are very useful birds. Our ancestors called woodpecker – a “forest doctor”. Often woodpecker acts as a kind and hardworking character in fairy tales. This bird is a true “friend of trees”, it cleans trees from various harmful insects: termites, aphids, etc. Yet, sometimes woodpecker may be annoying by its noise, but it still a very useful bird.

    Description and Characteristics

    How big are woodpeckers? The length of the woodpecker’s body is on average 25 cm. The average weight of the woodpecker is 60 g (0,22 pounds). Of course, there are larger species of woodpecker, such as the imperial woodpecker, which has almost 60 cm of length. The small gold-loving woodpecker is the smallest in the world, its length is only 8 cm. Gold-loving woodpecker is almost like hummingbird by its size.


    A woodpecker’s body seems somewhat elongated, due to the length of the tail and head. A woodpecker’s beak is sharp and durable; it has a chisel-like shape. A woodpecker’s nostrils are protected by special villi that prevent the ingress of wooden shavings during chiseling. A woodpecker’s skull has a special porous structure that protects its brain from concussion.

    A woodpecker’s wings have medium length, and they are sharp. Such structure of their wings helps them to easily maneuver between the trees. The wingspan of a woodpecker is 45-49 cm.

    woodpecker in flight

    Pileated woodpecker in flight.

    A woodpecker’s paws are short and four-toed (except for the three-toed woodpecker), two fingers are directed forward, and two back. Such a structure of the woodpecker’s paws helps them to hold on the vertical surfaces of the trees and move along them.

    A woodpecker’s plumage is tough and tight to the body. What color is a woodpecker? The color of woodpeckers is very diverse; everything depends on the species of a particular bird. There are woodpeckers with black and white colors, variegated, red and golden.

    Woodpecker tongue

    Woodpecker tongue.


    Where do woodpeckers live? They live almost everywhere across the globe, except Antarctica and Australia. Since woodpeckers are forest birds, they live mostly in forest areas. It may be taiga or tropical rain forests. Yet, there are woodpecker’s species, which instead of trees may live, for example, in large cacti.


    How does a woodpecker sound? Listen for yourself.


    How long do woodpeckers live? The lifespan of woodpeckers depends on their species. Some woodpeckers may live to 30 years. The most common woodpecker lives on average 10-11 years. There are species of woodpeckers (for example, green woodpecker) whose lifespan is not more than 7 years.



    What do woodpeckers eat? Why do woodpeckers peck wood? These questions have one answer. The woodpecker’s diet consists of various insects and larvae that live in the depths of trees: termites, ants, aphids, bark beetles and etc. This is the reason why woodpeckers peck the trees; they get the food by such a way. This activity of woodpeckers is also useful for the trees because these birds save them from pests.

    Woodpeckers always choose trees which are infected with the pests. This is the reason why they are called “forest doctor”. How do woodpeckers recognize these trees? Nature rewarded these birds with a delicate ear, and woodpeckers are able to hear the slightest creak made by pest inside the trees.


    Besides this, woodpeckers can eat berries, seeds of plants, nuts, obtained from cones of coniferous trees.


    Woodpeckers can become prey for some other big predators: hawks, falcons, owls, snakes, lynxes, martens and so on.


    Woodpeckers live mostly on the same territory. Usually, they live alone and only during the nesting period they make pairs.

    Woodpeckers spend most of their time studying trees for the presence of such insects that are tasty to these birds. Woodpeckers do not descend to the ground. In general, they do not feel comfortable on horizontal surfaces, vertical posture on a tree is more usual for them. Woodpeckers even sleep at night in this position.


    Woodpeckers communicate with each other with help of knocking out by beaks. It also serves to designate the boundaries of the territory of one or another woodpecker and to attract a partner during the mating season.

    Where Do Woodpeckers Go in the Winter

    Woodpeckers are sedentary birds, as they don’t leave their habitat for wintering. However, they can make a distant migration to a nearby forest, if there is more food in it.


    How many species of woodpeckers are there? There are more than 200 species of woodpeckers in nature. We will describe the most interesting of them.

    Great Spotted Woodpecker

    The great spotted woodpecker is not so big, despite its name. Its length is 14-16 cm, weight is 20-30 grams (0.05-0.07 pounds). The great spotted woodpecker has a variegated color. It lives in East and Southeast Asia.

    Great Spotted Woodpecker

    Common Woodpecker

    It is the most common representative of the family of woodpeckers. Common woodpeckers inhabit a wide geographic area; they live everywhere: from the forests of England to the forests of Japan. You can distinguish them by color. The common woodpecker has black and white colors, which are combined with a bright red tail. This gives the bird a colorful look. Some woodpeckers of this species may have a red head.

    Common Woodpecker

    Syrian Woodpecker

    In old times the Syrian woodpecker lived only in the Middle East, but now these birds moved both the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Its appearance and habits are very similar to the common woodpecker. They have the longer beak, on the sides of the belly. Besides this, the common woodpecker has two white spots between the eye and the shoulder, and the Syrian woodpecker merges these two spots into one large.

    Syrian Woodpecker

    White-backed Woodpecker

    The white-backed woodpecker lives in the forest zone of Eurasia. It has the medium size, its body length is 26-31 cm and weight is 100-130 g. The white-backed woodpecker differs from other woodpeckers by a slightly longer neck and angular head. The upper back of these woodpeckers is black, the lower is white. Besides this, the males have a red cap on their smut, but the females have a black cap.

    White-backed Woodpecker

    Red Headed Woodpecker

    The red headed woodpecker is distinguished by red color on its belly, from which its name originated. This woodpecker species lives in Southeast Asia. It is a very small representative of the woodpecker family; its body length is 200-250 mm, weight 50-70 g.

    Red Headed Woodpecker

    Black Woodpecker

    The black woodpecker is one of the largest woodpeckers in North America. Its body length is 42-49 cm, with a weight of 250-450 g. This woodpecker is very easy to identify by its appearance: a bird with black plumage and a red cap on its head will be a black woodpecker.

    Black Woodpecker


    A woodpecker’s mating season begins in spring. During this period, the males begin to lure females with their trills. When their pairs are formed the birds begin to build a nest. They carefully mask nest by branches.


    The female woodpecker has from 3 to 7 eggs, which she hatches for 15 days. Baby woodpeckers are completely helpless: naked, blind and deaf. However, during the first month, they become covered with feathers and begin to see. They still can’t fly, but they can actively run along the trunk. A year later, woodpeckers become adult birds.

    Woodpecker eggs

    Woodpecker eggs.

    Interesting and Fun Facts

    • How many times can a woodpecker peck in a second? The great spotted woodpecker is able to peck on a hollow at an amazing speed of 20 beats per second.
    • An ornithologist from California was awarded for his work “Why the woodpecker does not have a headache” back in 2006.
    • The woodpecker is able to eat 1000 ants at one time.

    References and Further Reading

    • Winkler, Hans & Christie, David A. (2002), “Family Picidae (Woodpeckers)” in del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A. & Sargatal, J. (editors). (2002). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 7: Jacamars to Woodpeckers. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-84-87334-37-5
    • Gorman 2014, pp. 22–23
    • Wang L, Cheung JT-M, Pu F, Li D, Zhang M, Fan Y (2011). “Why do Woodpeckers Resist Head Impact Injury: A Biomechanical Investigation”. PLOS ONE. 6 (10): e26490. Bibcode:2011PLoSO…626490W. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0026490. PMC 3202538. PMID 22046293.
    • Helmenstine, Todd (8 May 2014). “Woodpecker Beak Shock Absorbers”. Science Notes. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
    • Villard, Pascal; Cuisin, Jacques (2004). “How do woodpeckers extract grubs with their tongues? A study of the Guadeloupe woodpecker (Melanerpes herminieri) in the French Indies”. Auk. 121 (2): 509–514.

    Author: Pavlo Chaika, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Poznavayka

    When writing this article, I tried to make it as interesting and useful as possible. I would be grateful for any feedback and constructive criticism in the form of comments to the article. You can also write your wish/question/suggestion to my mail pavelchaika1983@gmail.com or to Facebook.


    • Very nice article. very informative. Have a question. we live in a cabin in Colorado. elevation at cabin is 9100′. The forest surrounding us has much ‘beetle kill’ yet the crazy woodpeckers peck holes in our siding on cabin.
      my question is: why do they NOT eat beetles in trees and instead eat our siding?
      thanks -tom

    • Hi Tom. I’m happy that you liked my article). About your question I have no idea why some crazy woodpeckers have passion to your siding. Maybe it attract them by somehow.