much wood can a woodpecker peck before a woodpecker’s pecking makes it
a pest? Well, the answer probably depends upon whether it’s pecking on
a nearby tree or the side of your house!
As one of Ohio’s most intriguing group of birds, woodpeckers can both
fascinate and frustrate us with their compulsive pecking. They peck,
drum, drill and chisel for three basic reasons: to establish territory
and attract mates, extract insects, and create nesting cavities.
Close to 20 species of woodpeckers live in North America and seven of
those call Ohio home: the red-headed, red-bellied, yellow-bellied
sapsucker, downy, hairy, northern flicker, and the pileated. The most
common and often seen in the Buckeye State is the small black and white
downy woodpecker. Males and females look alike except the males have a
spot of red on the back of their heads. The hairy woodpecker is very
similar to the downy, but at nine inches in length is about 2 _ inches
Woodpeckers do not sing like songbirds. But, just as each songbird’s
song is unique, every woodpecker’s “peck” is too. Rhythm, duration
and even the pattern of holes distinguish one woodpecker species from
For instance, trees with several rows of holes drilled in a straight
line often indicate the work of a yellow-bellied sapsucker. True to its
name, this colorful bird with a red cap and yellow belly is after tree
sap. It actually laps the sap and consumes insects entrapped in the
sweet, sticky liquid.
Can you imagine pounding your head against the wall 8,000 to 10,000
times? Well, that’s the amazing number of times some researchers
believe woodpeckers peck each day! Fortunately for this bird-brained
species, a spongy tissue filled with air protects its intellect.
To carry out their work, these birds are equipped with highly
specialized accessories: sturdy beaks, strong neck muscles, long elastic
tongues, stiff tails and powerful toes. Acting as a brace, the tail
supports the woodpecker while it chisels away. And, unlike other birds
that have three toes forward and one back, woodpeckers have two toes
forward and two toes back, helping them grip the sides of trees.
here’s a really cool fact about woodpeckers: they store their long
tongues inside their noses. And some of those tongues are nearly
four-inches in length! Attached to the right nostril, the projected
split tongue curves up around the skull then is shot out the mouth to
capture insects. Sticky saliva and barbs on the end of their tongues
help woodpeckers glean insects deep inside trees. As an example of this
dexterity, consider that a single northern flicker can eat thousands of
carpenter ants in one day.
Woodpeckers do more than peck at their prey. They also bore holes in
wood that will encourage insects to take up residence, thus creating a
ready food supply. Talk about a clever bird!
In Ohio’s woodlands, woodpeckers are more often heard than seen. Such
is the case with the pileated (pie-lee-ated), one of the state’s most
distinctive woodpeckers and definitely its largest at 16 to 19 inches in
length. Often referred to as the model for the cartoon character Woody
Woodpecker, it is the only woodpecker with a crest on its head, which is
a brilliant fire engine red. These shy birds prefer living among large
tracts of forested land.
Primarily insect eaters, woodpeckers go where the food source exists –
usually woodlots featuring some dead or decaying wood. However, if your
house’s wood siding is a woodpecker’s object of desire, consider it
fair warning and investigate immediately for a potential bug
Some woodpeckers, including the red-bellied, are known as ladderbacks
because of the distinctive black-and-white bars on their backs. They and
other of their species will drum on non-wood items for the reverberation
they create. While the drumming on gutters, down spouts and vent covers
can be a noisy nuisance, the action usually inflicts little damage.
Fascinating for their structural design and beneficial to our
environment for the many wood-boring insects they eat, woodpeckers are
true wonders of nature – whether at work in the woods or on the side