What Do Woodpeckers Eat?

I’m sure you have seen a woodpecker pecking on a tree (making that sound many people hate).

I recently learned that the reason woodpeckers peck at the wood is to find food.

If you are also curious about woodpeckers and wondering what they eat, in this article, I am going to cover everything you need to know.

What Do Woodpeckers Eat?

Woodpeckers aren’t picky eaters.

They feed on a variety of plants and animals.

Woodpeckers are primarily insectivores, consuming ants, beetles, their grubs, and insects that bore into wood.

Woodpeckers also feed on arachnids, including spiders and ticks, as well as earthworms.

While woodpeckers prefer insects, spiders, and worms, they also eat plant parts.

They will supplement their diets with seeds, nuts, fruit, and berries when they are available. Some woodpeckers also feed on nectar from flowers and sap from trees.

Woodpeckers use their sharp, chisel-like beaks to extract insects from wood. They are also able to use their strong, barbed tongues to probe crevices and extract insects from inside trees and other structures.

They have strong neck muscles and sharp claws that they use to help them cling to trees and other surfaces while foraging for food.

Overall, woodpeckers are adaptable and opportunistic feeders. Their diet can vary depending on the availability of food in their habitat.

They play an important role in controlling insect populations and helping to maintain the health and balance of forests and other ecosystems.

But different kinds of woodpeckers specialize in different foods.

Favorite Foods of Woodpeckers in Your Backyard

While all woodpeckers eat both insects and plant foods, some woodpeckers are specialists.

If you make sure woodpeckers have their favorite foods, they will spend more time in your backyard.

Acorn Woodpeckers

If you are familiar with the steady wacka-wacka sounds made by acorn woodpeckers, chances are that you live in coastal California or Oregon, or maybe on the eastern side of Arizona or the Four Corners area of New Mexico.

Acorn Woodpecker

You may also encounter these birds in West Texas.

Acorn woodpeckers usually sport a cap of red feathers, white feathers along their cheeks and on their breasts, and black feathers on their backs.

Acorn woodpeckers are given the scientific name formicivorus, meaning “ant eater,” but they are better known for pecking out granaries in dead trees to store acorns.

They may store as many as 50,000 acorns in a single tree. They eat any worms that grow in the acorns, but they are primarily interested in the nuts inside.

But acorn woodpeckers only use acorns as a backup food source.

Instead, acorn woodpeckers eat whatever is the most abundant for the particular time of year.

In spring and early summer, acorn woodpeckers drill wells into trees to tap the sap rising in the plant.

They will also take a long drink at hummingbird feeders. They will also catch insects in flight and nab beetles as they emerge from drying acorns.

You can keep acorn woodpeckers on your property with a hummingbird feeder. They are not especially fond of suet.

Downy Woodpecker

Tiny downy woodpeckers are found all over North America except Texas and most of New Mexico and Arizona., as well as Canada north of the Arctic Circle.

Downy Woodpecker

They don’t fly south for the winter, so you will see them year-round.

You can recognize these small birds by their white underbelly and the white spots on the black feathers on their back, plus the red feathers on their nape.

Downy woodpeckers love to eat garden insects, so if you want them in your backyard, let them control the pests in your vegetable garden.

They also feast on snails, spiders, and mulberries. One of their favorite foods is poison ivy seeds.

They will eat small fruits whole, and they will visit suet and peanut feeders.

Anywhere you see downy woodpeckers, you will probably also see hairy woodpeckers. They eat the same foods.

Gila Woodpecker

If you live in the Valley of Arizona or in the Mexican state of Sonora, anywhere saguaro cacti are found, you have probably heard the loud eek eek eek of the Gila Woodpecker.

Gila Woodpecker

Adult Gila woodpeckers are often described as “zebra backed.” with black bars on their sides but pale heads and underparts.

Gila woodpeckers raise three broods of babies every year.

They have ravenous appetites for ants, beetles, cicadas, grasshoppers, termites, small lizards, mistletoe berries, and grain left in fields.

They feed on saguaro fruit. They will also raid the nests of other birds (including chickens) to eat their eggs.

You can keep Gila woodpeckers fed by giving them a feeding platform stocked with suet, beef bones, and bacon rind. They will also drink from hummingbird feeders.

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker

Golden-fronted woodpeckers are a “zebra-back” species with golden feathers on their front and on their heads.

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker

They are a Texas Hill Country bird, although they range from southwestern Oklahoma south all the way to Nicaragua.

Golden-fronted woodpeckers eat lots of acorns, pecans, and corn.

They will feast on cactus tunas and persimmons, ants, spiders, and cicadas. About a quarter of their diet is grasshoppers.

You can attract golden-fronted woodpeckers with a suet feeder. They will also eat fruit from a platform feeder.

Golden-fronted woodpeckers will also drink from any dripping water source.

Northern Flicker

No matter where you live in Canada, Alaska, or the continental United States, you may see a northern flicker.

Northern Flicker

These intrepid birds range from the shores of the Arctic Ocean to the tip of Florida.

They eat more ants than any other bird in North America, but they will visit a feeding platform stocked with berries.

Nuttall’s Woodpecker

The Nutall’s woodpecker is a native of the oak forests of coastal California, although it has been observed at an elevation of 13,500 feet (4100 meters) in the Sierras.

Nutall's Woodpecker

It loves to chatter while it eats. It has a red cap, striped feathers on its back, and a white underbelly.

Nutttall;s woodpeckers mostly eat insects and spiders.

They get about 20 percent of their calories from apples, almonds, flower buds, and berries. You can attract them to your property with a suet feeder.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

If your mental image of a woodpecker is the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker, you have a good idea what a red-bellied woodpecker looks like.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

These familiar woodpeckers roam all over the eastern half of the United States and into Ontario. Ironically, red-bellied woodpeckers don’t actually have red bellies.

But they do have the rattle and chirp associated with the cartoon character.

Red-bellied woodpeckers eat mostly insects and spiders that they catch in trees or in midair during their breeding season.

The rest of the year, they eat mostly plant matter. They will harvest seeds, nuts, and fruit directly from the plant.

They usually do not forage for seeds and fruit that have fallen to the ground.

These woodpeckers are more interested in seeds and nuts from feeders than suet.

They most need supplemental feeding in the early fall, when they are storing food in the hollows of trees for winter.

Specklebacked or Ladder-Backed Woodpecker

Across most of Texas, northern Mexico, and the southern stretches of Arizona and New Mexico bird watchers are on the lookout for the specklebacked woodpecker, also known as the ladder-backed woodpecker.

Ladder-Backed Woodpecker

You can miss the distinctive foliage on its back. It looks a lot like zebra stripes.

This woodpecker drills holes in utility poles and fence posts. It makes constant noise.

Specklebacked woodpeckers get 90 percent of their diet from leaf worms, caterpillars, spiders, and beetles.

Only a very small part of their diet is plant matter. You can attract them to your yard with a suet feeder.

Williamson’s Sapsucker

Don’t let the name of this bird fool you. The Williamson’s sa sucker is a woodpecker, just a woodpecker that specializes in drilling for sap and pithy phloem in trees most of the year.

Williamson's Sapsucker

You can’t miss a male Williamson’s sapsucker when you see one in the wild. It has a black back and a red chin, with white wing patches.

The female may have a red chin, but won’t have the white wing patches. Both sexes have a yellow belly.

Both sexes make three kinds of noises, a churr, a squeal, and a growl. They also make drumming sounds.

Williamson”s sap suckers are most common in the Rockies, the Cascades, and the Sierra Nevada mountains of the United States.

Sapsuckers, as you might guess, specialize in eating sap from comfier trees (primarily pines and spruce).

After their broods hatch, they mostly eat ants for a couple of months, and then they build up energy for the winter by eating juniper berries,madrone fruit and piñón pine nuts.

They will eat dried fruit and berries from a platform feeder.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

The yellow-bellied sapsucker is also a woodpecker. Its breeding grounds stretch from eastern Alaska across northern Canada.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

It spends the winter in the eastern half of the United States, or sometimes as far south as Panama and Colombia.

It’s not especially easy to identify a yellow-bellied sapsucker by its pale yellow belly. Most birdwatchers identify them by their distinctive calls and drumming.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers drag flies through tree sap to feed their young, although they don’t feed hatchlings tree sap by itself.

Adult yellow-bellied sapsuckers eat mostly sap, bark, and fruit, although they will eat at either suet or fruit feeders.

Red-Breasted Sapsucker

Red-breasted sapsuckers are among just four species of sexually monochromatic woodpeckers in the world. Both males and females have red breasts.

Red-Breasted Sapsucker

They may also have red napes. If you have red-breasted sapsuckers in your backyard, chances are that you will have them year-round.

This woodpecker is a permanent resident of the Sierra Nevadas and the Cascades. along with the western half of British Columbia.

It’s easy to identify the call of the red-breasted sapsucker. It’s a high-pitched meh.

When red-breasted sapsuckers are in conflict with other birds, their call is rittah, rittah, rut, rut.

These sapsuckers prefer to eat insects that they find in dead trees during their breeding season.

The rest of the year, they will feed on sap and pith from trees, tearing open frozen trees during the winter.

They will eat cracked corn, sunflower chips, dried mealworms, peanuts, tree nuts, and suet from feeders.

Why do Woodpeckers Eat Upside-down?

Woodpeckers don’t always eat hanging upside down.

But when they do, it is to get their tongues further inside tiny cracks and crevices to catch insects.

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