The Woodpeckers behave in many interesting ways. To have them as visitors in our gardens is a priviledge, but not as hard as it may seem.
It was the insistent peckering of a woodpecker on the roof of his house, that inspired Walter Lantz to create the famous character Woody Woodpecker in the 40's, in California. With its beak that is almost like a live hammer, better yet, a powerful rock crusher, this bird's trademark are the constant "toc-tocs" heard wherever it is. This is how it searches for insects in the trunks, e that's how they locate sleeping larvae inside trees, destroying insects that chew wood.
The Woodpeckers start their activities late into the day, and go to sleep early. They spend most of the time knocking on the wood, trying to locate a cavity with food. They prefer dried or sick trees, or the ones with many parasites. Because of the trepidation they provoke, nature has protected their brains, minimizing its effects.
The long and pointed beak works as tongs. To reach the cavities, it uses its flexible and long tongue (sometimes 5 times bigger than beak). Its flexibility and prehension capacity are made possible by a discharge which acts as a glue.
However, the Woodpeckers don't live on insects only. Many neo-tropical species like fruit, such as papayas, apples and oranges. In the North of Brazil, there are species which apreciate the fruit of typical trees (imbaúba and caruru). In the USA, they have been seriously chased by farmers who had apple plantations, until it was discovered that they only ate the wormy fruit.
Another curious fact are the strong feet with which they are safe in a vertical position, holding fast to the trunk, and never falling. To climb, they jump up, the feet in a parallel position, sitting on the tail every time they stop. They rarely stand in horizontal branches.
Usually not sociable, the Woodpecker leads a lonely life. Though living in the same territory, the members of a couple avoid each other. But, when it's time to mate, the male looks for his beloved by beating violently on tree trunks. If two males fight for a female, they execute a silent and symbolic fight, standing one in front of the other in opposite sides of a narrow stem. One acts as the reflex of the other in a mirror. It's amazing how they cling there for a long time, peckering the opponent's head, and never touching the stem.
The Woodpeckers make nests in old trunks, ruined by fungus and insects, or dead trees. They dig a hole on it, with an opening facing the ground. The entrance is through a horizontal and circular corridor which leads to a very deep oval chamber.
The nest is built by the couple. The female lays 2 to 4 white eggs. The babies are born naked and blind. The male shares with his companion the hatching and feeding responsibilities. The baby food consists of insect balls, stuck together through regurgitation. With a few days of age, and still blind, the babies start to pecker wood playfully. They stay in the nest around five weeks.
In Brazil there are approximately 42 species, distributed around the country, and varying a lot in size (from 10 to 200g), colors and sounds. They can be found wherever there are forests or woods. They can be seen even close to great urban centers, in neighborhoods where there are lots of trees. Remember they prefer dead trees, they are very sensitive to insecticides, and sleep in trunk cavities. Besides fruit, they like to eat ants, thermites and their respective larvae. They also like to open bee and wasp nests searching for larva. If you hear the sound of wood peckering, or even a beating is steel plate, so loud they surpass the sound of the human voice, observe your garden; it might have become his territory.
Text: Kátia Maria de Fransischi and Marcos Pennacchi