All animals and birds have unique characteristics, but among all bird species, the woodpecker truly stands out.
Apart from the popular cartoon representation of this bird (Woody Woodpecker), woodpeckers are known for their characteristic of banging against trees or any other solid object. They don’t do this because they crave pain or enjoy self-mutilation, but their continuous pecking on wood does play a significant role in their survival and lifestyle. So, why do woodpeckers peck wood? Let’s find out the reasons behind their head-banging.
Why Do Woodpeckers Peck Wood?
Before we get into why woodpeckers peck wood, let’s try to understand how they can peck into a tree or wood.
When woodpeckers peck, it just looks like they’re banging their heads silly for no reason. But woodpeckers are created differently from all the other birds.
Woodpeckers do twenty pecks per second — that’s about 8,000 to 12,000 pecks per day on average. How do they do this?
For starters, woodpeckers have two forward-pointed toes and another two pointed toward the back. This is unlike all the other birds that have three forward toes and a single hind toe. This unique toe arrangement in woodpeckers, along with their hardened tail feathers, allows them to lean back without falling and then pound against the wood seamlessly.
Woodpeckers also have unique anatomy. They are designed to allow them to peck in rapid succession due to a muscle and tendon mechanism located at the back of their jaw, which primarily acts as a shock absorber.
The skulls of woodpeckers are also designed differently. Their bony matrix, which is similar to a sponge, has plenty of spaces in between crisscrosses of bones. This structure allows the woodpecker’s brain to compress and adjust with every force of a peck.
These birds also have enhanced feathers called bristles that can easily extend over their nostrils. This ensures that they don’t inhale any of the wood chips while pecking.
So, now that we know the unique anatomy of woodpeckers that lets them peck to their heart’s content, let’s take a look at why they love to peck wood.
#1. To Look For Food
All creatures need to eat, and since all animals are created differently, different animals and birds have different ways of finding their next meal.
While bald eagles fly close to the water surface, dip their feet, and catch fish, woodpeckers look for their meals under or in the bark of trees. This food can be anything from eggs and larvae to adult insects.
Once woodpeckers see their next meal, they start pecking the wood to create an opening and get to these insects. What’s interesting is woodpeckers are also equipped with long tongues. So, once they make this opening, they use their tongue to scoop the insects into their mouths.
#2. For Their Nests And Dwellings
Woodpeckers have proven that although they are part of the bird family, they have a different way of doing things.
Most birds make their nests by collecting twigs, leaves, grass, and other objects to build a warm and comfortable home. On the other hand, woodpeckers have another strategy using their carving or pecking skills.
Woodpeckers drill holes in their selected trees to make their nest. They create cavities in tree trunks that not only serve as their home but also become the next homes for animals that can’t create safe nests for themselves, like bluebirds, creepers, flycatchers, nuthatches, swallows, and smaller owls.
Here’s one fun fact about woodpeckers — if a woodpecker creates multiple holes of small sizes, it means their intention for pecking is not for a nest but for food. But if the woodpecker creates a large cavity, this is a nesting effort that they’ll work on for quite some time.
#3. To Talk To Other Woodpeckers
You won’t see a woodpecker singing a tune or whistling, or even tweeting. What you’ll hear is a peck-peck-peck sound.
This is the woodpecker drumming the trees with its beak to communicate with other woodpeckers. This drumming sound is also the birds’ way to attract mates.
#4. To Mark Their Territories
Humans put a fence around their property, and dogs urinate to mark their territory. Similarly, woodpeckers also have their own way of showing all the other birds that they have claimed a particular space as theirs.
Woodpeckers drum against trees loudly to let others know it is occupied. Certain breeds of woodpeckers, like the Northern Flickers, don’t prefer wood to drum or peck on but instead peck on chimneys and even house gutters to announce their presence — much to the dismay and frustration of homeowners.
#5. Because They Can
Not all birds can do what the woodpecker can do. Woodpeckers have a lot of strength and persistence thanks to their strong neck and solid beak.
Any other bird would have a concussion with all the banging and vibration that the pecking can cause — but not woodpeckers. These birds are naturally built to peck all day long, and that’s what they’re doing.
Additionally, when woodpeckers peck wood, they fulfill their role in the ecological cycle of being natural pest controllers. These birds help control the population of insects and other pests by eating them and reducing the harm these pests can do to humans and other animals.