With the mention of woodpecker, the first thing that comes to everyone's mind is the long-billed bird that pecks woods rapidly. However, there is a lot more to the pecking ability of this unique bird that separates it from other birds. While many people know that a woodpecker pecks wood at the speed of 20 times per second, very few people are aware of the fact that its tongue is three times the length of its bill.
Facts about Woodpeckers
Woodpeckers are found almost all over the world, except for Madagascar, Australia, and extremely cold regions. Belonging to the near passerine group of birds, they are truly arboreal in nature. Their adaptive features make them excellent hunters who have the ability of foraging on insects and worms deep inside the wood. Overall, there are more than 200 species of woodpeckers.
Diversity: The Picumnus genus of which they are a part, is a highly diverse groups of birds. Some members of this group thrive in deserts and sloppy regions, where there are no trees at all. Also, you get to see a great deal of diversity when it comes to their size; the smallest woodpecker is the 8-cm long Bar-breasted Piculet, while the largest is the 58-cm long Great Slaty Woodpecker.
Bill: Rightly designated as chisel-like bill, it helps these birds bore even the hardest wood. The beak is used for foraging or extracting worms from inside the wood and making holes in trees for roosting and nesting purposes. The size of holes that are made in the wood for nesting differs in accordance to species.
Tongue: The tongue of a woodpecker is extraordinarily long. It enters the right nostril, circles the skull (on the outer side), and comes out of the mouth. In addition, the tongue possesses a barb at the tip for catching insects and grubs.
Feet: Sharp claws, specifically arranged toes, and short legs collectively help woodpeckers to cling tightly to vertical wooden surfaces. The toe arrangement of this bird is called zygodactyl, in which the first and fourth toes, of the four toes, are pointed backwards, while the second and third toes orient forward. There also exist three-toed species of this bird.
Tail: The long, stiff tail feathers located at the center is an adaptive feature related to their arboreal habit. It creates a 'tripod' along with the two legs and helps them balance while pecking wood. Molting of these stiff feather occurs in a cycle and they shed only after new feathers grow.
Behavior: Woodpeckers neither make vocal sounds, nor use sign language for communication. Instead, they drum to attract mates, mark territory, or simply, to communicate with each other. Thus, you will see them drumming on hollow wood, trash bins, poles, and other resonating objects very often.
Flight: These birds adopt a unique pattern of wing beats while flying. If you observe closely, you will see that it flaps its wings thrice, follows it with a quick glide, and again flaps thrice. This specific pattern of undulating flight is a characteristic feature of all woodpecker species.
Lifespan: At a time, a female woodpecker lays 2 - 8 eggs. The young ones that emerge after incubation are featherless and blind. Both, the male and female take turns for incubating eggs and raise the young ones. Based on the species, woodpeckers can live for 4 - 11 years. They primarily display a solitary behavior and are rarely seen flying in flocks.
If you get a chance to study this bird, see the stiff feathers located near the nostrils. These bristle-like structures prevent small pieces of wood from entering their nostril. The pecking ability of this bird also makes it a destructive pest in many old, wooden homes. If you are facing this problem, you can use woodpecker deterrents, reflective tapes, and preventive measures to drive them away.