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Hear a story about the woodpecker.
Hear a woodpecker.

from The Birds of Texas
by John L. Tveten

Thirteen species of woodpeckers are found in Texas, the most widespread being the northern flicker. The yellow-shafted flicker is found in the eastern states, the red-shafted flicker in the West and the gilded flicker in the Desert Southwest. These three forms range across virtually all of North America. Flickers inhabit open woodlands, farm groves and suburban areas and feed extensively on the ground. Their diet consists mainly of insects, grains and berries. Other species that occur in Texas include the red-bellied, red-headed, acorn, ladder-backed, piliated, hairy, downy and golden-fronted woodpeckers as well as the yellow-bellied sapsucker. One species - the red-cockaded woodpecker - is endangered.

Few birds are more uniquely adapted for the ecological niche they fill than these "jackhammars of the forest." Their strong chisel bills enable them to dig for boring insects in the trunks of trees and to hew out nest holes in solid wood. Those holes provide homes not only for their original occupants but for a host of other birds ranging in size from chickadees to wood ducks and for other wildlife as well.

L - © Photo by John L. Tveten
A male red-bellied woodpecker shows his barbed tongue.

The bones of a woodpeckers skull are thick and heavily ossified to withstand the vigorous pounding, and the tongue is like that of no other bird. Hyoid bones at the base of the tongue are not anchored to the bottom of the skull. Instead they wrap around and over the cranium and anchor near the base of the bill. Elastic muscles encase the long, flexible rods of bone, and the woodpecker can thrust out its tongue several inches past the tip of its beak. Backward-pointing barbs allow most woodpeckers to spear insects in their burrows and pull them free. Others have modified tongues for specialized feeding habits. The long tongue of the flicker has fewer barbs and is coated with a sticky secretion for licking up ants, while that of the sapsucker is bristled like a brush for lapping up sap oozing from holes drilled through the bark of living trees. The woodpecker's diet consists mainly of insects, fruits and acorns.

R - © Photo by John L. Tveten
A golden-fronted woodpecker visits its nest.

Woodpeckers have short legs and strong claws for clinging to tree trunks, while unusually stiff tail feathers serve as props when climbing. They typically make nest cavities in trees and poles or in large cacti and old agave bloomstalks in arid regions where trees are scarce. The eggs are glossy white and rounder than those of most other birds, for there is no need for camouflage colors or for a pointed shape that prevents rolling from the nest. The clutch of four to seven eggs is usually laid on the unlined floor of the cavity, and both parents incubate and feed the young.

The woodpecker's loud staccato drumming serves to establish a territory and attract a mate. The drumming is this species' song.

Excerpts from The Birds of Texas by John L. Tveten with permission from Shearer Publishing, Inc.

More Bird Facts

More than 200 woodpeckers and their relatives range throughout the wooded regions of the world. Thirteen species occur in Texas.

Most males have some red color on the head. Only the red-headed woodpecker has a completely red head.

Many species have black and white zebra-like markings on their backs and wings.

Woodpeckers fly with a peculiar undulating, roller-coaster flight.

Each species has its own vocal calls that are as distinctive as its plumage.

The popular Woody Woodpecker cartoon character is a piliated woodpecker.

Hear Interviews with Experts

A Close-up Look at Woodpeckers

Controlling Nuisance Woodpeckers

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Visit these websites to learn more about woodpeckers:

The Woodpeckers of the Eastern Texas Pineywoods

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker


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