What Does A Woodpecker Eat?

Have you ever seen a woodpecker pounding away at a tree and wondered if it was eating the wood? Perhaps that led you to wonder: what does a woodpecker eat exactly? Do they have multiple food choices, or foods that they prefer more than others? Do they eat insects or other bids? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions and more.

What Do Woodpeckers Eat and Drink?

what do woodpeckers eat and drink

There are many different species of woodpecker, and they tend to eat different things based on what’s available in a particular region. Contrary to popular belief, they do not eat wood; they peck on trees for many reasons, but wood is not one of their food sources.

Some common food choices for woodpeckers include:

  • Spiders and insects: Like most birds, woodpeckers eat a variety of insects. In fact, when you hear the characteristic drumming sound woodpeckers make, it may be that they’re searching for bugs that bore into the trunks of trees.
  • Nuts and seeds: Woodpeckers enjoy eating many different kinds of nuts and seeds. If you have a bird feeder and your feed is heavy on the sunflower seeds, for example, you’ll probably have woodpeckers visiting regularly.
  • Sap: Some woodpeckers eat tree sap (similarly to what sapsuckers do), especially in late winter and early spring when there aren’t a lot of other food sources available. The sap flowing in different types of trees at this time provides all the energy and nutrients the birds need to help them survive until a wider variety of foods are available.
  • Berries and fruit: Woodpeckers often show signs of having a sweet tooth. They enjoy eating fruit of various kinds–whatever happens to be in season in their area.

Speaking of having a sweet tooth, have you ever noticed woodpeckers hanging around your hummingbird feeder? That’s because they sometimes enjoy drinking sugar water.

Depending on what’s available, woodpeckers will also drink flower nectar as well as plain water. Their bodies require a proper amount of hydration, and they don’t always get enough from their food alone.

What is a Woodpecker’s Favorite Food?

It’s difficult to name one specific food that all woodpeckers enjoy eating. A bird’s favorite food may depend on its species, location, and individual preferences. 

That said, woodpeckers are generally not picky and will eat a wide variety of things according to what’s available in a particular season. In other words, they can be considered opportunistic eaters.

According to Birds and Blooms Magazine, there are some foods which the majority of woodpeckers seem to enjoy. If you’re looking to attract woodpeckers, you might try putting out some of these foods: 

  • Suet: made from the hard fat solid attached to bovine kidneys and livers, suet cakes are a popular feed choice for many different bird species. Woodpeckers in particular love them, so if there are any woodpeckers living in your area, putting out suet cakes is a great way to attract them to your yard.
  • Sunflower seeds: Woodpeckers eat lots of different seeds, but sunflower seeds appear to be some of their favorites. Whether you use a sunflower-based feed in your birdfeeder or grow sunflowers in your yard, you may find yourself attracting a larger population of woodpeckers to the area.
  • Peanuts or peanut butter: Peanuts are a top food choice of woodpeckers. To get woodpeckers to visit your yard, you can add raw, unsalted peanuts to your birdseed, set the nuts out on their own, or place dishes of peanut butter around your yard.

Once you’ve attracted woodpeckers to your area, you may be wondering what to feed them throughout the winter to keep them from starving. For more information, check out the video below:

What Insects Do Woodpeckers Eat?

Woodpeckers eat many different kinds of insects. As with other food sources, they will generally eat whatever is available in their area at a given time of year.

Wood-boring insects, such as termites, are some of their favorite insects to eat. One of the reasons woodpeckers pound on wood is to create holes so they can reach these insects.

Once they’ve made the holes, their long beaks reach inside and their barbed tongues capture the bugs.

Woodpeckers may also eat bugs that are easier to capture, such as grubs, and ants. Spiders are not technically considered insects, but woodpeckers enjoy eating spiders as well.

They also like beetles and caterpillars, both of which are easy to catch and provide a good source of protein and nutrients.

In short, woodpeckers aren’t picky; they’ll eat just about any type of bug they can catch.

Do Woodpeckers Eat Other Birds?

In most cases, woodpeckers aren’t cannibals; they prefer the meat of insects over that of other birds. But again, it depends on the species.

A few woodpecker species are known for their occasional tendency to eat other birds. These cannibalistic species include red-headed and red-bellied woodpeckers.

Even the species that eat other birds don’t do so all of the time. They eat other foods as well, typically only hunting smaller birds during food shortages or periods of starvation. 


Woodpeckers eat lots of different foods depending on what’s available and in season. Some of these foods include insects, nuts and seeds, tree sap, suet, and fruit, though some woodpeckers may also eat other birds if they are hungry enough.

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