What Do Woodpeckers Eat?

If you’ve ever wondered, “What do woodpeckers eat?” then you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll dive into the fascinating world of woodpeckers and explore their varied diet, as well as how they find food and why they drum.

Woodpecker Food Sources: A Varied Menu

While many people might assume that woodpeckers only eat insects, their diet is actually quite diverse.

Let’s explore some of the different types of food that woodpeckers eat.

1. Insects

Insects make up a significant portion of a woodpecker’s diet.

These birds are especially fond of wood-boring insects like beetles, ants, and termites, which they skillfully extract from tree bark and wood.

They also enjoy caterpillars, spiders, and other small insects that live in trees.

2. Tree Sap

Woodpeckers, particularly the yellow-bellied sapsucker, are known to consume tree sap.

They create small, shallow holes in tree trunks, which cause the sap to flow.

The birds then return to these “sapwells” to feed on the sweet liquid, as well as any insects that might be attracted to it.

3. Flower Nectar

Some woodpeckers, like the red-naped sapsucker, have a taste for flower nectar.

They use their long tongues to probe flowers, just as hummingbirds do, and extract the sweet nectar inside.

This provides them with a valuable source of energy, particularly during the spring and summer months when flowers are abundant.

4. Fruits

Fruit is another important part of a woodpecker’s diet. They enjoy a wide variety of fruits, such as berries, cherries, and apples.

The northern flicker, for example, is known to be particularly fond of fruits and will often visit fruit trees in search of a tasty snack.

5. Acorns

The acorn woodpecker, as its name suggests, has a special affinity for acorns. These birds store large quantities of acorns in specially created holes in trees, which they use as a food cache. They’ll then return to these caches throughout the winter months to feed on the stored acorns.

6. Seeds

Woodpeckers also consume seeds, particularly during the winter months when insects and other food sources may be scarce.

They’ll visit bird feeders for sunflower seeds or suet, and they’ll forage for seeds in trees and on the ground.

7. Lizards and Salamanders

While it might surprise some, woodpeckers occasionally eat small vertebrates like lizards and salamanders. These animals make up a relatively small portion of their diet, but they provide an important source of protein, particularly for larger woodpecker species like the pileated woodpecker.

8. Birds and Eggs

Some woodpecker species, such as the red-bellied woodpecker and the European green woodpecker, have been known to eat other birds and their eggs. This behavior is relatively rare and usually only occurs when other food sources are scarce or unavailable. In such cases, woodpeckers may raid nests for eggs or target young, inexperienced birds as a source of nourishment.

Drumming and Eating: What’s the Connection?

Woodpeckers are known for their drumming behavior. This rhythmic tapping on trees or other hard surfaces serves several purposes, such as attracting mates and establishing territory.

However, drumming is also a key part of their feeding strategy. As they drum, they listen for the sound of insects moving within the tree bark or wood.

Once they’ve located their prey, woodpeckers use their sharp beaks to chisel away at the wood, creating holes and exposing the insects hiding inside.

Their long, sticky tongues then come into play, allowing them to easily extract their meal.

How To Attract Woodpeckers With Food

Attracting woodpeckers to your backyard can be a rewarding experience for bird enthusiasts.

By providing suitable food sources, you can invite these fascinating birds to visit and even become regular guests.

Here are some tips on how to attract woodpeckers with food:

  1. Suet: Suet is a high-energy food made from rendered animal fat, often mixed with seeds, nuts, or fruit. It’s an excellent choice for attracting woodpeckers, as it provides the essential fats and proteins they need.
  2. Bird Feeders: Woodpeckers are attracted to bird feeders filled with sunflower seeds, peanuts, or other nuts. Choose a sturdy feeder with a tail prop to accommodate their long tails and provide a comfortable perch.
  3. Fruit: Offer fresh or dried fruits like berries, apples, or cherries to entice fruit-loving woodpecker species.
  4. Sugar Water: To attract sapsuckers and other nectar-feeding woodpeckers, provide a hummingbird feeder filled with sugar water.
  5. Natural Sources: Encourage natural food sources in your yard by planting fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, maintaining dead trees or snags for insects, and avoiding the use of insecticides.

10 Common Woodpecker Species and Diet Specifics

1. Downy Woodpeckers

Downy woodpeckers primarily feed on insects such as beetles, ants, and caterpillars. They also enjoy suet, seeds, and berries.

2. Hairy Woodpeckers

Similar to downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers consume insects, suet, seeds, and berries. They have a particular taste for wood-boring insects.

3. Northern Flickers

Northern flickers mainly eat ants and beetles, but they also consume fruits, seeds, and nuts. They’re known to visit bird feeders for suet and seeds.

4. Pileated Woodpeckers

Pileated woodpeckers primarily feed on carpenter ants and wood-boring beetles, but they’ll also eat fruits, nuts, and berries.

They can be attracted with suet and large chunks of nuts.

5. Red-Bellied Woodpeckers

Red-bellied woodpeckers enjoy a varied diet that includes insects, fruits, nuts, seeds, and even small vertebrates. Offer them suet, seeds, and fruit to entice them to your yard.

6. Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers

These woodpeckers feed on tree sap, insects, and fruits. To attract them, provide sugar water in a hummingbird feeder and plant fruit-bearing trees.

7. Red-Headed Woodpeckers

Red-headed woodpeckers eat insects, seeds, nuts, and fruits. Attract them with suet, sunflower seeds, and fruit offerings.

8. Lewis’s Woodpeckers

Lewis’s woodpeckers primarily consume insects, but they also eat fruit and nuts. Attract them by offering suet, nuts, and fruit.

9. White Woodpeckers

White woodpeckers have a diet that consists mainly of insects, fruits, and seeds. To attract them, provide suet, seeds, and fruit in your backyard.

10. Red-Breasted Sapsuckers

Red-breasted sapsuckers feed on tree sap, insects, and fruits. Attract these woodpeckers by providing sugar water in a hummingbird feeder and planting fruit-bearing trees.

How Do Woodpeckers Hunt Their Food?

Woodpeckers have a unique and efficient method of hunting for food. They use a combination of their sharp beaks, strong neck muscles, and specialized anatomy to find and extract their prey. Here’s an overview of how woodpeckers hunt their food:

  1. Drumming: Woodpeckers drum on tree trunks and branches to locate insects hiding under the bark or within the wood. The sound produced by the drumming helps them detect the presence of insects and pinpoint their location.
  2. Pecking and Chiseling: Once they’ve located their prey, woodpeckers use their strong beaks to peck and chisel away at the wood, creating holes and exposing the insects or larvae inside.
  3. Tongue and Barbed Tip: Woodpeckers have long, sticky tongues with barbed tips that allow them to reach deep into crevices and extract insects. They use their tongue to spear or wrap around the prey, pulling it out of the hole.
  4. Visual and Auditory Cues: In addition to drumming, woodpeckers also rely on visual and auditory cues to locate food. They observe insect activity on tree trunks, listen for the sound of insects moving, and watch for signs of insect-infested trees, such as sawdust or frass.

What Do Baby Woodpeckers Eat?

Baby woodpeckers, or nestlings, rely on their parents for food during the first few weeks of their lives.

The parents feed them a diet that is similar to what they eat themselves but tailored to the nutritional needs of the growing chicks.

Here’s what baby woodpeckers typically eat:

  1. Insects: Parents primarily feed their young soft-bodied insects like caterpillars, ants, and beetle larvae, which are easier for the nestlings to digest and provide essential proteins for growth.
  2. Regurgitated Food: Adult woodpeckers may also partially digest harder food items, such as seeds and nuts, and then regurgitate them to feed their chicks.
  3. Sap and Nectar: For species like sapsuckers, parents may feed their young tree sap or nectar, providing them with a source of carbohydrates and energy.

What Do Woodpeckers Eat During Winter?

During the winter months, when insects are less abundant and other food sources may be scarce, woodpeckers adapt their diets to the available resources. Here’s what they typically eat during the winter:

  1. Seeds and Nuts: Woodpeckers consume seeds and nuts, such as sunflower seeds, acorns, and pine nuts, which can be found on trees or on the ground.
  2. Suet: Suet is a valuable food source for woodpeckers during the winter, providing essential fats and proteins to help them maintain their energy levels.
  3. Insects: Some woodpeckers continue to feed on insects, even during the winter months. They search for dormant insects, larvae, or pupae hiding in tree bark or beneath the snow.
  4. Bird Feeders: Woodpeckers are also known to visit bird feeders during the winter, seeking out seeds, suet, and other food offerings provided by humans.

FAQs About What do woodpeckers eat

What food do woodpeckers like most?

Woodpeckers primarily enjoy insects, particularly wood-boring insects such as beetles, ants, and termites. However, their preferences may vary depending on the species and available food sources.

What is the best suet for woodpeckers?

The best suet for woodpeckers contains a mix of rendered animal fat, seeds, nuts, and fruit, providing essential fats, proteins, and other nutrients to support their energetic lifestyle.

How do you make a woodpecker feeder?

To make a woodpecker feeder, you can use a simple suet cage, a sturdy tray feeder with a tail prop, or a log-style feeder with pre-drilled holes. Fill the feeder with suet, seeds, or nuts to attract woodpeckers.

Do woodpeckers like oats?

Woodpeckers may eat oats if other preferred food sources are not available, but they generally prefer seeds, nuts, and insects over oats.

Do woodpeckers eat squirrels?

While woodpeckers primarily feed on insects, they might occasionally eat small vertebrates. However, they are unlikely to eat squirrels, as they are too large for most woodpecker species to handle.

Do woodpeckers eat wood?

Woodpeckers do not eat wood but instead chisel away at it to access insects and larvae living within tree trunks and branches.

Do woodpeckers eat insects?

Yes, insects are a significant part of a woodpecker’s diet. They especially enjoy wood-boring insects like beetles, ants, and termites, as well as other small insects like caterpillars and spiders.

Do woodpeckers eat ants?

Ants are a common food source for many woodpecker species, particularly northern flickers, which primarily feed on ants.

Do woodpeckers eat worms?

Woodpeckers may eat worms if they come across them while foraging, but worms are not a primary food source for most woodpecker species.

What do woodpeckers eat on the ground?

On the ground, woodpeckers may forage for seeds, nuts, fallen fruit, and insects such as ants, beetles, or termites. They might also search for worms and other invertebrates in the soil.

Final Thoughts About What do woodpeckers eat

In summary, woodpeckers have a diverse and adaptable diet that includes insects, tree sap, flower nectar, fruits, acorns, seeds, lizards, salamanders, birds, and eggs. This variety of food sources allows them to thrive in a wide range of habitats and adapt to different seasons and environments.

Their unique drumming behavior, sharp beaks, and long tongues equip them with the tools they need to find and extract their meals from trees and other places. So the next time you hear a woodpecker drumming away, remember that it’s not just about communication – it’s also a key part of their feeding strategy.

And now you can answer the question, “What do woodpeckers eat?” with confidence, knowing that these fascinating birds enjoy a diverse and adaptable diet that helps them thrive in their unique ecological niche.

Julian Goldie - Owner of ChiperBirds.com

Julian Goldie

I'm a bird enthusiast and creator of Chipper Birds, a blog sharing my experience caring for birds. I've traveled the world bird watching and I'm committed to helping others with bird care. Contact me at [email protected] for assistance.