Nine Fun Facts About Woodpeckers

There are birds at your nut feeder with black, white and red.

What are they?

The safe answer is, it’s a woodpecker. Adult males of six of the seven species of woodpeckers in Iowa have some combination of black, white and red, in fact. It might be a red-headed, red-bellied, downy, hairy, pileated woodpecker or yellow-bellied sapsucker. The northern flicker has a little more brown on it to distinguish it from the others.

Graphic with photos of woodpeckers

The pileated woodpecker is not common in northwest Iowa, but it has been spotted in the region. It is the largest woodpecker in Iowa, growing up to 19 inches in length. The downy woodpecker, which looks almost identical to the larger hairy woodpecker, is the smallest at only 6 inches in length.

(Seven waterfowl to look for during migration)

Woodpeckers are interesting creatures with very specialized skills. Check out these fun facts about these amazing birds!

1. They have super long tongues.
Woodpeckers’ tongues are usually about twice the length of their bill so that they can reach for insects inside the holes they peck out. When not in use, the long tongue curls around the back of the head between the skull and the skin.

Their tongues are also sticky. Most woodpeckers have either barbed tongues or sticky saliva that helps them pull out insects they find in their holes.

2. They’re made to cling to trees.
Woodpeckers have strong tail feathers that support the bird as it holds itself on a tree trunk, and they also have two back toes to lean back on.

3. They have furry noses.
If you look at the pictures above, you can see that woodpeckers have fuzzy noses. Their nostrils are covered in feathers to keep splinters and dust out while they peck.

4. They don’t get headaches.
Woodpecker bills help distribute shock throughout the thick skull when pecking. Humans would have plenty of pain hitting their heads against a tree, but woodpeckers don’t have any issues!

5. Woodpeckers are perfectionists.
Iowa woodpeckers nest in tree cavities, with access holes they carve out themselves. They will peck an entrance that is a perfect circle.

Pileated woodpeckers make a nest hole that is an oval or oblong.

6. They like to make music.
In the animal world, woodpeckers are the only creatures to make a sound with something other than a part of its body. They will drum on a variety of objects to communicate territory, to attract mates, to locate food, or maybe even exercise or play. Listen to this red-headed woodpecker:

7. They like to stay upright.
When climbing down a tree, they stay upright and lead with the tail first. Other insect-eating tree species of birds, such as nuthatches, crawl down a tree head first. Some scientists says that this difference allows the birds to find insects by accessing the tree in a different way and reduces competition between the species.

8. Woodpeckers also love nuts.
In addition to eating insects, woodpeckers also like berries and nuts. That is why you will see them on your nut feeders. Some like acorns so much they will store them for the winter, and red-headed woodpeckers will even seal up their cache with wet splinters that dry out to form a tight cover. Some people have even seen red-headed woodpeckers attempt to fill a house attic with acorns.

9. They like things new.
Woodpeckers create new holes each year, and their old holes are often used by other birds.

If you like fun animal facts, check out these other articles:
Tiger Salamander Fun Facts
Five Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Painted Turtles
Fast Frog Facts



  1. paula on March 20, 2019 at 9:43 am

    how do you tell a male from a female?

    • kiley on March 20, 2019 at 2:17 pm

      Which species are you referring to? Telling apart males and females depends on species.

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