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What makes a woodpecker peck?

By Nancy Zuschlag, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension

Woodpeckers are the pest animals of the bird world. As most of us know, they hammer into the sides of houses and trees, often damaging both.

Woodpeckers look for insects that burrow into wood products. They are less of a nuisance to people when enough trees remain in their natural habitat. When too many trees have been cut, the woodpecker may begin pecking away at our homes in search of food.

If we can look beyond the damage they cause, we can marvel about how the bird's beak and tongue work together to find food. First, the woodpecker uses its strong, pointed beak to chisel insects from the wood. Then, the long mucous-covered tongue goes into action. Using barbed or hair-like protrusions at its tip, it picks up ants and spiders. Thanks to small, delicate bones that curve around the birds' brain case and into the eye sockets, the woodpecker can extend its tongue to great lengths to snap up its insect dinner.

Photo: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010