If you live in an area with lots of woodpeckers, then you’re probably familiar with the loud drumming noises they make at all hours of the day. But perhaps you’re not sure of the reasons behind this annoying noise. Why does a woodpecker peck wood? Does it hurt their heads, necks, or beaks? And is there a way to identify the exact reason for the pounding at any given time? Keep reading to find out all you want to know about woodpeckers and their unique wood-pounding habits.
What You'll Learn Today
Why Do Woodpeckers Knock on Wood?
There are many different reasons why woodpeckers hammer away at tree trunks, siding, and other wooden objects. Some of these reasons include:
- They may be searching for food: Woodpeckers eat lots of different insects, many of which live in trees. In particular, they hammer holes into trees in search of wood-boring insects such as termites and birch borers.
- They may be marking territory: Woodpeckers, like many birds, are territorial animals. When a woodpecker produces the loud pecking sound on trees and other objects, it is a sign to other woodpeckers in the area that the bird is claiming that tree or object as its own.
- They may be attempting to attract a mate: If the pecking is accompanied by a loud trilling noise, as heard in the video below, it may be part of a mating ritual.
- They may be making a nest hole: Woodpeckers build nests inside holes they create in trees. During late winter and early spring, the constant hammering you hear may be a sign that a woodpecker is building a nest in your tree.
- They may be trying to ward off predators: Woodpeckers have their share of natural predators, but their beaks provide a certain amount of protection. They will often pound on trees or other objects to warn predators to stay away.
Does it Hurt a Woodpecker to Peck Wood?
According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, woodpeckers have several natural adaptations to protect themselves from injury when they peck on things.
Woodpeckers have strong, sharp beaks that act like nails being pounded into wood. Their beaks are nearly unbreakable, and the sharp point on the end helps them to drive their beaks further and further into tree trunks and other wooden objects.
They also have strong muscles at the base of their beaks which act as built-in shock absorbers. These muscles protect the bird’s head and neck from the repeated impacts of pecking wood.
Tiny, microscopic hairs inside their nostrils help to filter out the bits of sawdust they create. These hairs then move the bits of wood out of the nostrils, keeping them from getting inside the woodpecker’s body.
With all of these natural adaptations in place, the woodpecker is well protected from being hurt and does not feel any pain when pounding on things.
Do Woodpeckers Eat Wood?
One common misconception about woodpeckers is that they are eating the wood when they pound on it. In reality, none of the many species of woodpecker actually eat wood.
It may appear that the woodpecker is eating as it pecks away at a tree trunk, but in fact, it is more likely eating bugs or sap inside the wood and not the wood itself.
What Does it Mean when a Woodpecker Pecks on Your Tree?
As noted above, woodpeckers peck trees for many different reasons. Is there any way to figure out what, exactly, a woodpecker is doing in your tree on any given day?
If you notice a woodpecker pounding at a tree in your yard, then it’s likely the bird has claimed that tree as part of their territory.
In the late winter and early spring, you may hear an increase in the pecking noises as the bird bores a nest into the wood. If you hear a lot of unique bird calls during this time, the woodpecker is probably attempting to find a mate as well.
At any time of year, you may hear the pecking noises as your friendly neighborhood woodpeckers search for food. This may be the reason for any pecking you hear routinely in the morning and evening.
The pecking may sound particularly loud or frantic if the woodpecker is warning intruders to stay away from the tree. Whether the intruder is a predator, another woodpecker, or a human passing by, the woodpecker will furiously defend the tree because it’s “their” tree.
Woodpeckers are known for pecking on trees and other wooden objects (including human houses!), and they have lots of different reasons for doing so. The next time you hear a woodpecker pounding away on your tree, see if you can try to guess whether it’s looking for food, building a nest, or performing another activity.