Woodpeckers are omnivorous creatures and primarily feed on insects, seeds, berries, acorns, nuts, fruit and sap from trees. They mainly prefer a diet of insects and their grubs which it gathers from living or dead trees. Ecologically, these birds also help keep trees healthy by sticking to this type of diet as it keeps the trees from suffering from mass infestations. This type of bird is also well known for its ability to acquire wood-boring grubs by using their bills to hammer trees. Overall, these birds are very flexible in their diet and most species are omnivorous or opportunistic.
They especially love to find bugs inside of tree trunks or in the rotted wood or crevices of a tree. Some of their favorite treats include ants, termites, beetles, grubs, caterpillars and spiders. Once hammering the tree with its bill the bird then excavates its prey with its long barbed tongue. In most cases woodpeckers prefer dead wood rather than healthy wood to dig for food or excavate nest cavities. Since most trees contain some amount of dead wood, the woodpecker’s activity from its diet does not necessarily mean that it is harming the tree.
Woodpeckers have often been known to change their dieting patterns to whatever food sources are most abundant at the time. For instance, sap is a popular food source in the spring when few other foods it enjoys are unavailable. In the spring and summer they can mostly be found feasting upon insects as it provides a great deal of protein to the bird which helps in the breeding process and is good for growing hatchlings. In the fall, nuts, seeds, and fruit are more popular because of plentiful natural harvests that occur. Some species of woodpeckers will even cache foods for colder months when sources are scarce.
Woodpeckers will visit backyards that offer appropriate food year round. The most popular foods they enjoy that are found in many backyard feeders include: peanut butter, sunflower seeds, fruit such as apples or oranges, suet, nuts, fruit blends, nectar and meal worms. These types of feeders are available at stores for purchase and can be quite useful for woodpeckers when food is scarce in the wild. Suet feeders should be securely attached and provide a small tail prop panel or similar support for the birds to feed. Tray feeders are often most effective for offering other types of food to the bird.
Contrary to what many believe, woodpeckers do not drum on the wood of trees to eat it. As mentioned before they may do this to dislodge a grub from a tree or to drill a hole in the tree to get to its food easier. What many people do not realize is that when they are not doing this, the drumming method they are using is actually a form of communication. It is often used to advertise a territory or to attract a male woodpecker. While woodpeckers do use their bills in feeding, they do not eat the wood itself.