What do woodpeckers eat

Downy woodpeckers consume about 20% plant matterIn this article about what do woodpeckers eat, we have gathered a wealth of  interesting data about woodpecker diet and woodpecker feeding habits, including why do woodpeckers peck, how / where woodpeckers typically find their food, what do woodpeckers eat in the winter, and what do downy woodpeckers eat. You will also find many answers to more specific frequently asked questions about woodpecker diet (like do woodpeckers eat wood, what do baby woodpeckers eat, and do woodpeckers eat termites).

Woodpecker body structure, feeding rituals, behavior, and habits

Woodpeckers use their strong tail feathers to prop and balance themselves while they feed on the sides of treesBefore we explain what do woodpeckers eat, it is important to understand the unique feeding habits / behavior and body structure of woodpeckers compared to other wild birds. Woodpeckers, unlike most wild birds, have a body structure that is ‘top heavy’ (unbalanced) with their large heads and necks, and long thick bills.  Therefore, they don’t perch horizontally (stand and sit upright) on horizontal branches, rooftops, electrical wires, signs, and light poles like other birds. A woodpeckers body also has much stronger (and generally longer) tail feathers, legs, feet, toes, and claws than other birds, which they inherently use for maintaining their balance vertically (propping, and leveraging).  Consequently, woodpeckers ‘cling’ (grab on to and hold) to the sides of things (mainly the trunks of trees), and ‘hitch’ (climb and descend in short jumping motions) vertically up and down the sides of things (again, mainly tree trunks and vertical branches of trees) using their powerful tail feathers for balance and legs for climbing. Because of their ‘clinging’ and ‘hitching’ behavior, most woodpeckers feed predominantly from the sides of trees and larger vertical branches of trees. While some woodpeckers like the red headed woodpecker and the northern flicker will feed on the ground, they too like most other woodpeckers also feed extensively on and from the sides of trees and vertical branches.

What woodpeckers eat is directly related to range and habitat

When feeding, woodpeckers hold on to the sides of trees with their powerful legs and clawsWoodpeckers of North America are omnivorous – they eat a wide variety of different plant (fruit, nuts, and berries) and animal matter (namely insects and bugs that live on/in dead or dying wood). The percentage of plant and animal matter a particular species of woodpecker consumes is usually dependent upon where they live (range and habitat). What we mean by this is woodpeckers of Texas, like the Golden fronted woodpecker and the Ladder backed woodpecker, which inhabit the more arid brushlands of Texas, would feed more on cactus fruit (like the purple fruit of the prickly pear cactus). While woodpeckers in NJ, which inhabit forest woodlands, would feed more on wood boring insects. In the following paragraphs we will explore in more detail the particular plant and animal materials different woodpecker species feed on.

What do downy woodpeckers eat

Adult woodpeckers teach their babies how to feed and what to eatAbout seventy five percent of a downy woodpeckers diet consists of insects and bugs, and the majority of the insects and bugs they eat (like the larvae of beetles, caterpillars, and ants) are found by pecking, prodding, and chiseling in the bark, cracks, crevices, and holes of dead or rotting wood. When they have difficulty finding food in tree bark and dead wood, these woodpeckers can be very beneficial for the farming community because they will eat a number of different insect pests found in farm fields and orchards, like apple borers, tent caterpillars, bark beetles, and corn earworms. The remainder of their diet (about twenty five percent) consists of plant matter: fruit and berries, grain, and nuts (particularly acorns). Also, where available, they come to bird feeders eating sunflower seeds, suet mixtures, fruit and nectar.

What do hairy woodpeckers eat

A Hairy woodpeckers diet consists mainly of insects and bugs and their larvae, all of which make up about eighty percent of their diet. They are found in similar ranges and habitats as the Downy, and their diet is very similar also (see above ‘what do downy woodpeckers eat’). The main difference between the two woodpeckers is in how and where they find their food. Hairy’s are much more likely to forage on the trunks of large trees, and on larger branches of trees, using their large chiseling bill to hammer into larger and thicker tree bark and holes to obtain what they eat (while Downy’s tend to forage on smaller trees and branches, and have a much smaller bill). Besides eating bark beetles and wood boring insect larvae, Hairy’s also eat caterpillars, wasps, spiders, and bees, and occasionally have been known to forage on crickets and grasshoppers. Hairy’s love to feed in forests that practice controlled burning, because one of their favorite treats (wood boring insects) are prevalent in these environments. These woodpeckers also go to bird feeders eating suet, nuts, and sunflower seeds.

What do pileated woodpeckers eat

Woodpeckers feed extensively on carpenter ants, black ants, and winged antsA pileated woodpeckers diet consists predominantly of ant – they will forsake all other foods for their favorite treat – carpenter ants. In parts of their range where carpenter ants are prevalent, these ants can make up over eighty percent of their diet. They also consume many other ant species, and also like to eat termites. Other types of animal matter they eat are wood boring insects and larvae, grasshoppers, flies, and caterpillars. The remainder of their diet consists of plant matter (about twenty percent): nuts (especially acorns), fruit and wild berries like persimmon fruit, poison ivy berries, blackberries, elderberry, and hackberry. Where available and very occasionally these woodpeckers also eat suet, nuts, and seed found in backyard bird feeders.

What do Gila woodpeckers eat?

Gila woodpeckers eat mainly insects that they glean from the sides of trees, brush, bushes, and cactus. They also eat mistletoe berries, cactus fruit, and any other fruit and berries they can find in the arid environments in which they live. They also frequent backyard bird feeders offering fruit, jellies, and nectar, and also like to visit hummingbird feeders to drink the sugar water.

What do Red headed woodpeckers eat?

Picture of woodpecker clinging to and feeding on the side of a pine treeRed headed woodpeckers consists of about thirty percent animal matter (insects and bugs) and about seventy percent plant matter (fruit, nuts, berries, seeds, and corn). Of all the North American woodpeckers this woodpecker is the most skillful flycatcher, able to locate flying insects from their perch and then flying off their perch to catch the insects in mid air. They are also one of the few woodpeckers of North America that likes to feed on the ground, where they eat fallen tree nuts like acorns and beech nuts and also ground crawling bugs like ants and caterpillars. Other insects they consume include cidadas, grasshoppers, and bark beetles. Other animal matter they feed on include other birds eggs and nestlings, small rodents, and occasionally smaller adult birds. Additionally, they are one of the few woodpeckers that cache (store) their food, cramming and stuffing seeds, acorns, corn, grasshoppers, and other insects into the bark, cracks, and crevices of trees, and then sometimes even covering the food they’ve stashed to hide it from other birds. These woodpeckers also come to backyard bird feeders that offer fruit and nectar, seeds, peanuts, and suet mixtures.

What do red cockaded woodpeckers eat?

When most plant material has died, decayed, and disappeared, during winter woodpeckers feed extensively on insectsA red cockaded woodpeckers diet is extensively based on eating insects. Over eighty percent of their diet consists of insects like wood boring beetles and their larvae, grasshoppers, different varieties of ants, moths, crickets, and spiders. The remainder of their diet (less than twenty percent) consists of nuts (predominantly pecans and acorns), fruit and berries (like poison ivy, hackberries, wild blackberries, wild grapes, cherries, and persimmon).



Woodpecker diet – frequently asked questions

Do woodpeckers eat wood – why do woodpeckers peck?

No, woodpeckers do not eat wood. When watching woodpeckers climb up and down the bark of trees all the while pecking at the bark, it might appear that they are eating the wood, but they aren’t. What they are doing is searching for food. The majority of the food that woodpeckers eat is found under the bark of trees, burrowed into the wood, and in the holes of wood. Therefore, in order to extract their food, they must hammer, peck, chisel, and chip the bark and heartwood away, thus exposing the food they are after, which is predominantly wood boring insects and their larvae, and to a lesser extent, the sap of the trees.

Do woodpeckers eat termites?

Yes, woodpeckers eat termites. And where do termites live?..deep inside of wooden material – dead or rotting trees, wood siding of houses, and any decaying woody matter they can find. Since woodpeckers eat termites and many other household insect pests like flying ants, carpenter ants, black winged ants, spiders, and roaches, they are very beneficial to have around to control these pests. Some woodpeckers, like the downy woodpecker, also feed extensively on insects and pests found in farm fields and fruit orchards, like corn earworms, caterpillars, and apple borers, and are thus very beneficial to the farming community as well!

Do woodpeckers eat bees?

Yes, woodpeckers eat bees, but bees are not one of their primary food sources. The hairy woodpecker eats bees, however it does so primarily as a by product of trying to get to the bee’s larvae.

What do woodpeckers eat in the winter?

Some woodpeckers are known for caching and storing food in the bark, crevices, cracks, and holes of trees in the months before winter, when food is more abundant. They do this to supplement their feeding in the winter, when food is more scarce. They store mainly tree nuts like acorns, but they also will cache some insects as well. However, all woodpeckers (including the one’s that cache and store food before winter) feed predominantly on insects found in the bark of trees in the winter. Since wood boring insects burrow and penetrate deeper into the wood during the winter, the woodpeckers then have to peck and chisel and work a lot harder to get to them.

What do baby woodpeckers eat?

Picture of adult woodpecker feeding a baby woodpeckerPicture of baby woodpecker learning how to feedBaby woodpeckers eat the same foods as their parents (insects, larvae of insects, nuts, fruit, seeds, and berries). Adult woodpeckers feed their babies by regurgitating the food they have eaten, and ‘hammering’ it into the back of the babies throat as their babies open their bills. After leaving the nest, for a few weeks to a month or more, the adult woodpeckers still ‘force feed’ their babies, even though the baby woodpeckers are able to (and do) feed on their own, which they learned how to do by mimicking their parents.

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How to attract woodpeckers to your yard