Woodpeckers are renowned for their characteristic knocking on trees and logs. They are birds with distinctive markings and capture our attention with their unique behavior. Many people are interested in attracting woodpeckers to their gardens. To do so, they need to know what woodpeckers eat.
Woodpeckers eat protein, including insects, small rodents, lizards, and spiders. They drink nectar and tree sap in spring when other food is unavailable. They eat berries, other fruits, nuts, acorns, and seeds. They are adaptive in their feeding habits and will make use of available food resources.
A hollow log for nesting and a well-stocked bird feeder can attract woodpeckers to your garden. They are fascinating birds to observe, and having a nesting pair in your garden is a pleasure.
What Do Woodpeckers Eat In The Wild?
Woodpeckers are insectivorous birds, and they diligently seek out insects that may be hiding in bark, under leaves, and cracks in tree branches. They will also eat insects that they spot on the ground from their perches in tree branches.
Their diet includes wood-boring insects, spiders, praying mantis, grubs, ants, worms, and caterpillars. They are opportunists and will eat any insect that crosses their paths.
Woodpeckers also eat tree sap, berries, nuts, seeds, flower nectar, and over-ripe fruit.
Some woodpeckers also eat rodents, small frogs, lizards, and other bird eggs. Woodpeckers that live near the coast may eat crustaceans such as crabs, and they happily dispatch snail shells to eat the snail inside.
They are characterized by being having an adaptable diet which ensures their success as a species. If live food is in short supply, woodpeckers will feed on dead and decaying animals.
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Do All Woodpeckers Have The Same Diet?
There are many different woodpecker species, and some of them specialize in catching and eating specific prey items.
The red-naped sapsucker can be seen completing aerobatic maneuvers while it catches flying insects. They are often seen preying on flying ants during the ants’ nuptial flights.
Some ants prefer to make their homes in trees, and these have become the prey of rufous woodpeckers.
The buff spotted woodpecker has chosen to nest in termite mounds and specializes in digging termites out of their nests and feasting on them. It makes for convenient chick feeding when the food is close by.
Wryneck and the Andean flickers feed predominantly on insects on the ground. The acorn woodpecker feeds mainly on acorns and has been known to store hundreds of acorns in hollows in a tree, much like squirrels do.
Other woodpeckers are also known for storing food in bark crevices, holes in trees, under rocks, and even holes in the ground. They may keep dead insects, nuts, seeds, or berries.
Does A Woodpecker’s Diet Change With The Seasons?
Woodpeckers are adaptable birds. When insects have not yet emerged from their winter hideaways in early spring, woodpeckers feed on sugar-rich energizing tree sap. Early fruiting plants will also form part of their diet.
As spring progresses and insects and other prey emerge and breed, woodpeckers change to a heavy protein diet. This is kept up throughout summer as it is essential for breeding and reproducing.
Baby woodpeckers are fed diets that consist mainly of protein so that they can maximize their growth rate. Parents bring insect and other meat offerings to the continually hungry youngsters.
In fall and autumn, woodpeckers begin to feed on fruit, nuts, seeds, and tree sap once again. This feeding behavior allows them to store essential body fat for the cold winter months.
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Do Wood Peckers Have Special Adaptations For Their Diet?
Woodpeckers can extract insects from bark and rock-hard termite mounds. They are adapted to do this as they have a sharp-pointed beak for hammering holes in wood and termite mud.
The bones in their heads have spongy areas which absorb the impact caused by hammering with their beaks. This prevents woodpeckers from a brain concussion.
The woodpecker has a unique barb on the end of its tongue, which allows it to stab or spear insects and pull them out of their hiding holes. The tongue is also long, sticky, and has bristles, which aid in insect extraction.
How Do Woodpeckers Hold Onto Trees While Feeding?
Woodpeckers have feet specially adapted for holding onto trees. They have zygodactyl feet, which means that their first and fourth toes point backward, and the second and third toes face forwards.
This toe arrangement allows woodpeckers to cling to tree surfaces and walk up and down tree trunks in their pursuit of prey.
Their toes and legs are powerful, allowing the woodpecker to climb trees safely.
How Do I Attract Woodpeckers To My Garden?
Bird feeders are a reliable way to attract woodpeckers to your garden.
Remember that woodpeckers are unlikely to perch on a bar like those found in traditional bird feeders. Woodpeckers prefer to eat while clinging onto the side of the bird feeder.
Cage bird feeders provide a good way to offer woodpeckers food as they can hang on the side of the mesh and eat the food inside.
Other birdfeeders can be attached to trees allowing the woodpecker to assume its natural eating position. (Check our guide how to attract woodepeckers for complete information around attracting them to your yard.)
What Food Should I Offer Woodpeckers In My Garden?
Woodpeckers can be offered a variety of foods.
- Fruit such as berries, apples, oranges, and grapes. There is a high liklihood they will eat most fruit that is offered.
- Fruit jelly is a popular food with most woodpeckers.
- Seeds, especially sunflower seeds
- Peanut butter – ensure it has no artificial sweeteners, preservatives, or salt. Peanut butter is high in fats and protein.
- Suet is a favorite food with most woodpeckers. It can be offered in a mesh cage, providing a high-energy meal for breeding birds.
- Nectar feeders similar to those you would use for hummingbirds.
- Insects such as mealworms.
What Trees Attract Woodpeckers?
If you prefer a natural approach to attracting woodpeckers to your garden, try planting trees and bushes that feed them.
- Berry bushes of any kind.
- Fruit trees
- Nut-bearing trees and oaks to produce acorns.
- Seed-rich plants such as sunflowers.
- Plants that attract insects will also attract woodpeckers as they prey on the insects.
Woodpeckers adapt their diet to their surroundings. A few, such as the acorn woodpecker, are more specific in their food choice. To enhance their diet, woodpeckers will take advantage of available insects, fruit, nuts, seeds, rodents, and even other bird eggs.