Kids' Page: Woodpeckers

June, 2014





Did you know that woodpeckers can peck up to 12,000 times per day, up to 20 pecks a second, without getting a headache!?  They can to do this because of some special adaptations. 

Woodpeckers have a lot of cushion around their brain for protection. The most impressive adaptation is a special bone inside their skull—called the a hyoid bone—that acts like a seatbelt for their brain!  The hyoid bone helps keep the woodpeckers’ brain from smashing against the inside of their skull when they peck.

The shape of  bill also helps protect the brain from the shock of pecking—the upper portion is a little longer than the lower half. Woodpeckers’ tongues are sticky, barbed, and can be up to 4 inches long.  These adaptations enable them to grab insects that are inside the tree. 

Woodpeckers are zygodactyl, which means they have two toes pointing forwards and two toes pointing backwards. This helps secure them upright (or upside down) to the tree while foraging for insects, nuts, fruit, and sap. Their stiff tail feathers also help prop them against the tree. 

Woodpeckers communicate not by singing or tweeting, but by drumming (tapping on wood). They can tap dozens of times per second! Each species, and even in different areas, have different tapping patterns.

Woodpeckers, sapsuckers, and flickers are all in the same ‘woodpecker’ family. There are 12 species in our area. They are all cavity nesters; the male and female birds spend about a month digging a cavity in a dead tree in which to make a nest. The female lays 2-5 eggs. Both parents take turns sitting in the nest and looking for food. After about 2 weeks the baby birds hatch (blind and without feathers), and spend 3-4 weeks in the nest before flying away. The mom and dad build a new nest every year. 

Woodpeckers can live up to 11 years, depending on the species.

The biggest threat to woodpeckers is habitat loss due to human causes.  Fires also cause habitat loss and a decline in their population.  One thing we can do to help is instead of chopping down a dead tree; leave at least 12 feet standing.  Woodpeckers may use it for nesting. 

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