Woodpeckers are unmistakable, thanks to their pecking habits. Especially impressive, however indeed unique are their tapping and drumming communication signals, which can be heard in many of the world’s woods during the breeding season. With their specialized climbing and pecking methods, woodpeckers are unrivaled as predators of insects that lie hidden under bark, within the wood, or, like ants and termites, live in nests with tunnels far below the surface. Woodpeckers also create permanent dwellings for rearing their young and for daily roosting; excavated holes last for years.

Woodpeckers play an important role in the earth’s forest ecosystems. They help to control a number of hark- and wood-boring insects, thereby contributing to the health of the tree trunk and its bark covering. Woodpeckersthus help indirectly to exert pressure on the huge populations of insects and mice or voles. They also play an important part in the cycle of decay and regeneration of matter in so far as they peck at huge amounts of dead wood, making it accessible to other decomposing organisms.

True woodpeckers (subfamily Picinae) are small- to medium-sized birds of powerful-and stocky build. Their bill is adapted for
hacking and chiseling. Their tongue, capable of the extreme protrusion (up to the room, 4in.in the Green woodpecker), is a highly efficient catching device that enables the bird to extract insects from deep cracks and crevices and from the tunnels bored by insect larvae and made by ants and termites.

Woodpecker feet are specially adapted for climbing, with two toes pointed forward and two back. The fourth toe can be bent sideways so that the crampon-shaped claws can always be positioned as best to suit the curve of the trunk or branch.

Climbing movements and pecking postures are facilitated by the wedge-shaped supporting tailfeathers, the shafts of which have additional strengthening. Such a tail allows the woodpecker’s body to be cushioned and permits good, relaxed posture for pecking or for pauses between bouts of climbing. Special adaptations for pecking, tapping, and drum-ming protect internal organs, particularly the brain, against impact damage. This is absolutely necessary considering the number of pecking blows executed daily (in the Black woodpecker 8,0o0 to 12,000).

True woodpeckers eat mainly arthropods, particularly insects and spiders, but also take plant food (fruits, seeds, berries) and nestling birds from holes in trees. The Acornwoodpecker eats acorns, storing these for the winter in specially excavated holes. Sap-suckers drill holes in horizontal rows (so-called “ringing” behavior) and then lick up the exuding droplets of sap with the tongue, the tip of which is frayed and brush-like. Great spotted woodpeckers make so-called” anvils” into which they wedge cones in
holes to peck out the fat-rich seeds. Up to 5,000 cones may be found under a “primary anvil” of which there will be three or four in a territory. The ability to deal with fruits and seeds in “anvils” or to store them in holes is a great aid to survival for woodpeckers in areas of winter cold and consequent seasonal insect shortages.

Woodpeckers catch their prey with a great variety of different techniques, the simplest of which is the gleaning of items from leaves, branches, or trunks. Slightly more complicated is probing into bark crevices combined with the scaling of bark.

Both sap-suckers and the Three-toed woodpecker obtain insects that lie hidden under bark or within wood by drilling round holes, inserting the tongue, and harpooning the item. Other “pecking woodpeckers” and also the large species chisel and lever off large pieces of bark and carve out deep holes in their quest for insects. A Black woodpecker may consume up to 90o bark beetle larvae or L000 ants in a single meal. “Ground” woodpeckers mostly peck only funnel-shaped holes in ants’ nests.

then extend their long “lime-twig” tongue along tunnels and into chambers to spoon up adult ants and pupae. A Green woodpecker needs to eat about 2,000 ants daily, mostly lawn and meadow ants. When this is not possible, in extreme winters such as that of 1962-63, a large part of the population will perish.Some species, for example, the Yellow-tufted woodpecker and Lewis’s woodpecker, and related species of the genera Melanerpes andCenturus, arc able (like flycatchers and tyrants) to take some insects in flight.

Most woodpeckers are sedentary and may remain in the same territory for a long time. Only a few species. including the Yellow-bellied sapsucker and the Red-headed woodpecker in North America, are migratory. Northern races of the Great spotted woodpecker and the Three-toed woodpeckers undertake far-reaching eruptive movements at intervals of several years when their main seed-crop diets fail. The Great spotted woodpecker penetrates into central and southern Europe in years of cone shortage; Three-toed woodpeckers invade areas of North America and Europe where the forests periodically suffer from infestations of insect pests.

The great majority of woodpeckers are territorial, living in individual, pair, or family territories, in some cases for several years. A ringed Great spotted woodpecker showed fidelity to its 25ha (62 acres) territory for a period of 6 years in most other species studied most individuals remained in or close to their territory for the whole of their lives.

Defending a territory helps to ensure not only breeding success but also adequate food supplies and, above all especially important for woodpeckers roosting possibilities in holes affording shelter from the weather. As a rule, woodpeckers react aggressively toward intruders of their own kind.

Genuine family territories are found in the corn woodpecker. Up to r 5 individuals of different generations live in the territory, providing an effective defense of their acorn stores against any competitors.
Woodpecker courtship generally begins with drumming, display (”excitement”)flights, and prominent calls. These signals are used by both sexes to advertise territory limits and trees with holes, to attract prospective partners to suitable nest sites (nest-showing), to stimulate the partner sexually, and to intimidate rivals.

A new nest hole is not excavated every year and an old one can certainly be used for several years. Black woodpeckers may use the same hole for up to 6 years, and Green woodpeckers for up to years or more. However, even these species are forced to excavate new holes when they are evicted by jackdaws or starlings.

Excavation of a hole takes 10-28 days, according to species and method. Both sexes participate. About r 0,000 wood chips have been found under a Black woodpecker hole. When the hole is completed the birds chip off small pieces from the inner wall to serve as a cushion in the nest scrapes for eggs and young.
Copulation usually takes place without any special ceremony. The female assumes precopulatory posture crossways on a branch and the male simply flies onto her back. Lengthy physical contact is avoided. Mutual courtship feeding has been recorded in only a few species, for example, the Olive-backed woodpecker of Asia. The glossy white eggs are laid in the early morning, one per day until the clutch is complete. Constant guarding of the nest hole is typical once the first egg has been laid. In all species of woodpeckers, the male spends the night in the nest hole during both incubation and nestling periods; in the Melanerpes woodpeckers, the male and female roost there together.

During incubation and brooding, birds of a pair change over at intervals of 30 to 150 minutes. The nest-relief ceremony resembles that of nest-showing: calling, demonstrative tapping, also drumming. The” pecking woodpeckers” collect food in the bill, the “ground woodpeckers” and all large species feed their young by regurgitation. Nestlings give almost ceaseless whirring or rattling food calls.
The nestling period is 18-35 days. When they leave the nest, young woodpeckers can climb and fly. Soon afterward they follow the adults through the territory, contact being maintained with calls which in Black, Pileated, Green, and Gray-headed woodpeckers are the same as those given to attract a partner or to guide another bird to a hole. In some species, both adults tend the young after fledging, in others (eg Great spotted woodpecker and others of the genus Picoides, and also Green and Gray-headed woodpeckers) the brood is split, each adult caring for one to three young. The family breaks up within 1-8 weeks of leaving the nest, adults increasingly use various forms of threat to drive away their offspring(ruffling of crown feathers, wing-spreading, threat calls) which finally move off, eventually to establish their own territories.

The tiny piculets (subfamily Picumninae)climb about tree branches in the manner of woodpeckers or, at times, titmice and nuthatches. Their flight is undulating. Foraging piculets peck at the bark and soft wood to get at ants, termites, and wood-boring insects. Their tail, which does not serve as a support when climbing and does not have the stiffened quills of the larger woodpeckers, shows three conspicuous white-longitudinal stripes in almost all species. Piculets excavate a nest hole in a tree trunk or branch or enlarge available holes. During courtship, they call and drum. The clutch consists of 2-4 eggs and incubation takes 1-14 days. The young fledge after 21-24 days. Disjunct distribution in Asia, Africa, and America indicates the piculets to be of very ancient origin.

Wrynecks (subfamily Jynginae) live in open woods, orchards, parks, and meadows with copses. Like woodpeckers, they obtain their main food (various kinds of ants) with the help of the tongue. The name wryneck derives from their defense behavior in the nest: when threatened by a predator they perform snake-like twisting and swaying motions of the neck and simultaneously hiss. Filmed sequences show that such behavior is effective in intimidating small predators. A prominent feature in spring is the rather nasal knee call which rises slightly in pitch and which is given by both sexes to attract a partner to prospective nest holes. The 7 or 8 eggs are usually laid on the bare floor of the nest chamber (after throwing out any nest that may have already been started). Incubation takes 12-14 days and young spend a further 21 days in the nest, the parents feeding them with adult
.and pupal ants (about 8,000 individuals daily for all the nestlings); post-fledging care lasts 2 weeks.

From July onwards Northern wrynecks begin their migration south from breeding grounds in Europe and Asia to wintering areas in Africa and Southeast Asia. Populations of the Northern wryneck are threatened and the species has almost completely disappeared from England in recent years. The Rufous-necked wryneck is found in southern Africa, including mountainous regions up to 3,0oom ( 0,000ft ). Browncocktail ants Crematogaster make up 8 percent of its diet.

Woodpeckers in 20 steps: 
  1. Woodpeckers are a family of birds known for their unique ability to peck holes in trees and other wooden surfaces using their strong beaks.
  2. There are over 200 species of woodpeckers found throughout the world, with varying physical characteristics, habitats, and behaviors.
  3. Woodpeckers are primarily arboreal, meaning they spend most of their time in trees or other high places.
  4. Their beaks are specially adapted to withstand the impact of pecking, with a combination of hard bone, specialized muscles, and shock-absorbing tissue.
  5. Woodpeckers use their beaks to peck holes in trees and other wooden surfaces to search for food, excavate nests, and communicate with other woodpeckers.
  6. The holes they create can be beneficial for other animals, such as providing homes for other birds or small mammals.
  7. Woodpeckers have zygodactyl feet, which means they have two toes pointing forward and two pointing backward, allowing them to easily climb up and down trees.
  8. Many woodpeckers have long, pointed tongues that can reach deep into tree bark to extract insects, which make up a significant portion of their diet.
  9. Woodpeckers also eat fruit, nuts, and seeds, and some species have even been known to catch and eat small vertebrates, such as lizards or frogs.
  10. Some woodpecker species are migratory, while others are resident year-round in their habitats.
  11. Woodpeckers are monogamous, meaning they mate with one partner for life. They often engage in courtship displays, such as drumming on trees or vocalizations.
  12. After mating, woodpeckers excavate a nest cavity in a tree or other wooden surface, where they lay their eggs and raise their young.
  13. Woodpeckers are known for their loud, distinct drumming, which is used to communicate with other woodpeckers and to establish territory.
  14. Many species of woodpeckers are considered threatened or endangered due to habitat loss, pesticide use, and other human-caused factors.
  15. Woodpeckers have a symbiotic relationship with certain trees and plants, as their foraging activities can help aerate the soil and promote new growth.
  16. Some species of woodpeckers are also important for seed dispersal, as they may eat fruit or nuts and deposit the seeds in their feces.
  17. Woodpeckers have been known to cause damage to buildings and other structures, as their pecking can weaken wooden structures and cause noise disturbances.
  18. Certain types of woodpeckers, such as ivory-billed woodpeckers, have become rare or extinct due to hunting, deforestation, and other factors.
  19. Many cultures have associated woodpeckers with various symbolism, such as good luck, strength, and determination.
  20. Overall, woodpeckers play an important role in many ecosystems, with their unique adaptations and behaviors contributing to both the ecological and cultural significance of these fascinating birds.

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