World of Woodpeckers

Happy Woodpecker Wednesday! I thought I’d do something a little different for our feature this week. Instead of a species profile, today’s post is going to be facts about woodpeckers in general. I think as a bird blog, it’s important to do species profiles to educate others on specific birds (big groups like Audubon and Cornell Lab do “bird of the week” features too).

But every once in awhile, you just want to mix things up. And I’m in that kind of mood today. So here are 10 wonderful facts about woodpeckers.

  • There are between 180-200 woodpecker species found throughout the world. Some species are possibly extinct, but since these extinctions haven’t been confirmed, it’s hard for scientists to get a more exact count.
  • Woodpeckers can be found on almost every continent, except Australia and the extreme polar regions. They are also not present in Madagascar, New Zealand, and New Guinea. Most species live in woodland areas, but a few live in deserts and rocky hillsides.
  • Woodpeckers are part of the family Picidae, which is one of the eight families in the order Piciformes. There are four subspeices of the family Picaidae which include sapsuckers, wrynecks, and piculets.
  • The smallest woodpecker in the world is the Bar-breasted Piculet. Adults are around 3 inches (7.5 cm) and weight about 0.28 to 0.35 ounces (8 to 10 grams). They are found in Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia.
Bar-breasted Piculet (Image by Joao Quental via
  • The largest woodpeckers in the world are the Ivory-billed (around 20 inches) and Imperial (between 23-25 inches). However, both may be extinct. The largest confirmed woodpecker is the Great Slaty Woodpecker, which is around 20 inches and live in Southeast Asia.
Imperial Woodpecker specimens (Image by Fritz Geller-Grimm via wikimedia commons)
  • Woodpeckers have zygodactyl feet. This means that they have 2 toes facing forward and 2 facing the rear. Many birds, such as waders and passerines, have 3 forward and one facing backwards. Being zygodactl helps woodpeckers climb trees vertically and gives them exception grip since their talons are so long.
Woodpecker Feet illustration (via Fernbank Science Center, Atlanta,GA)
  • How can woodpeckers drum on trees without hurting their heads? Their skulls are thick and have sponge-like bone in the front and rear of the cranium. This helps them protect the brain by spreading the impact force. The nictitating membrances (a.k.a “thrid eyelid”)close a millisecond before impact to protect their eyes. They also have special bristled feathers that cover their nostrils from flying debris.
  • A woodpecker can peck at an average of around 20 pecks per second. That’s around 8000-12,000 pecks per day!
  • Woodpeckers have long tongues, which vary in shape depending on a species diet. Woodpeckers have aย  hyoid apparatus (a set of two narrow bones, muscle, and cartilage). The hyoid allows the tongue to extend to great lengths. It wraps around the base and over the top of the skull.
Diagram of a woodpecker tongue (Illustration by Denise Takahashi via
  • The most common flight pattern for woodpeckers is 3 flaps and a glide.


What is your favorite species of woodpecker? Tell me in the comments below.

Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily go birding in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but love to travel. I am currently a biology student with interests in conservation biology, ornithology, and environmental sciences. My dream is to go birding in all 50 states.

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