You may have always been watching woodpeckers pecking various trees. But, this doesn’t mean that they’re eating wood. They actually peck trees to pull the insects out or make a comfortable habitat secured from potential predators.
Now the question is, what do woodpeckers eat? Woodpeckers, in general, feed on insects, bugs, and wood-boring beetle larvae. In winter when insect population is not abundant, they eat seeds, nuts, berries, and various fruits. During summer, they even sip nectar and tree sap to protect themselves from the warmest weather.
Apart from that, woodpecker diet changes according to their various species. In this article, we’re going to share with you everything you need to know about what woodpeckers eat and what you can offer to them.
So, let’s get started!
Woodpecker Diet and Food Sources
Woodpeckers as wild birds can easily find abundant food sources in the wild. However, the exact foods for woodpeckers vary, depending on their species. The most common foods include suet, insects, peanuts, peanut butter, black oil sunflower seeds, nectar, sap, acorn, etc.
As wood is the home of most insects, woodpeckers peck on wood to eat them. Apart from having wood-boring insects, insect eggs, and larvae, these wild birds like spiders, grubs, and ants. Most importantly, these wild birds sometimes eat mealworms either live or dried.
To eat insects from trees, woodpeckers drill holes and then pull the insects out by using their long tongue. Their tongue is quite sticky to grasp the insects. With their sticky tongue, they can pull insects out from the center of the tree.
Suet is the most favorite food of woodpeckers. Not only is it tasty, but it also provides high-energy to these wild birds. Woodpeckers can eat suet directly from butcher shops. Or, you can offer the food to them with a basic suet cage feeder.
If you’re willing to provide woodpeckers with suet, you can purchase suet blocks from the market. Besides, you can make your own suet blends by mixing nuts, fruits, and even insects with the suet. You can smear suet on the woodpecker-visiting trees as well.
Woodpecker diet includes peanuts, either shelled or unshelled. Peanuts can be a delicious snack for woodpeckers, which also provide protein and fats. However, flavored or salted peanuts can be harmful for woodpeckers.
If you offer peanuts to woodpeckers, make sure to use woodpecker-friendly feeders. This way, you can discourage unwanted visitors. Besides, woodpeckers eat pine nuts. If you have pine trees, you can see these birds eating the pine nuts.
4. Peanut Butter
Woodpeckers love peanut butter and fruit jelly. To feed them peanut butter, simply smear sufficient amount of peanut butter directly on the woodpecker-visiting tree trunks. You can also fill a log feeder with peanut butter or peanut butter blends.
5. Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
Woodpeckers, like most birds, love to eat seeds, especially black oil sunflower seeds, either whole or hulled. They eat these seeds in the wild or any random platform or hopper feeder. When these seeds are in feeders, other birds may join the feast.
If you want to provide these seeds to woodpeckers, make seed cakes and place the cakes inside the feeders. Can’t you make seed cakes? Don’t worry. Mix fruits and nuts with the seeds. Use some peanut butter to make blocks.
Acorn woodpeckers have been known to eat acorn. They drill holes to store their acorns (thousands of acorns in a single tree). Beside, other woodpeckers, such as Red-headed Woodpeckers are sometimes seen to eat acorn.
Like many birds, woodpeckers love most fruits, such as apples, oranges, grapes, cherries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and most other berries found in the wild. These wild birds also drink juice from broken fruits.
Woodpeckers usually forage for the fruits from fruit and berry bushes. They can also consume fruits from platform feeders provided by many backyard birders. Why do woodpeckers eat fruits? Fruits provide most woodpecker species with extra energy.
8. Fruit Jelly
As you know, woodpeckers like fruit jelly offered by birders. Whether fruit jelly contains apple, grape, or marmalade flavors, woodpeckers really love them. Keep in mind that, woodpeckers eat fruit jelly only when other food sources are not abundant.
We all know that nectar is the main food source for hummingbirds. You’ll be surprised to know that woodpeckers sometimes drink nectar from hummingbird feeders if they can, although woodpecker beaks are larger than those of hummingbirds.
As hummingbird feeders usually have small feeding ports, woodpeckers cannot insert their beaks into the feeder. If you want woodpeckers to drink nectar, place a nectar feeder in your yard, which has large feeding ports, suitable for woodpeckers.
Some woodpeckers eat tree sap, especially when other food sources are not abundant. However, a few woodpecker species, like Red-breasted Sapsuckers, Red-naped Sapsuckers, Williamson’s Sapsuckers, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers eat tree sap on a regular basis.
Woodpecker Diet By Types
|Name||Scientific Name||Common Diet|
|Downy Woodpeckers||Dryobates Pubescens||Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, Millet, Peanuts, and Chunky Peanut Butter|
|Hairy Woodpeckers||Dryobates Villosus||Wood-boring beetles, ants, bees, wasps, caterpillars, spiders, crickets, and grasshoppers.|
|Northern Flickers||Colaptes Auratus||Ants, beetles, fruits, seeds, and larvae|
|Pileated Woodpeckers||Dryocopus Pileatus||Carpenter ants, wood-boring beetle larvae, fruits, nuts, and berries|
|Red-Bellied Woodpeckers||Melanerpes Carolinus||Fruits, nuts, seeds, berries, tree sap, arboreal arthropods and invertebrates|
|Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers||Sphyrapicus Varius||Tree sap, fruits, nuts berries, and sometimes arthropods|
|Red-Headed Woodpeckers||Melanerpes Erythrocephalus||Suet, seeds, acorns, beechnuts, pecans, and various fruits and berries|
|Lewis’s Woodpeckers||Melanerpes Lewis||Insects, nuts, fruits, and acorns|
|White Woodpeckers||Melanerpes Candidus||Seeds, Fruits, and Insects|
|Red-Breasted Sapsuckers||Sphyrapicus Ruber||Sap, fruits, and arthropods|
1. Downy Woodpeckers
The diet of downy woodpeckers contains 75% insects and bugs, including beetles, ants, plant lice, caterpillars, wood-boring larvae, and spiders. The rest is seeds and fruits, including black oil sunflower seeds, grain, acorns, berries, millet, peanuts, and chunky peanut butter.
2. Hairy Woodpeckers
Over 75% of hairy woodpeckers’ diet consists of insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches, millipedes, spiders, caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, moths, and wood-boring beetles. When these insects are not abundant in the wild, they eat various fruits and berries.
3. Northern Flickers
Northern Flickers mostly eat insects, such as ants, beetles, anthills, and other insects from the ground. They also eat seeds and fruits, especially in colder months. They dine on these foods by hammering at the soil just like other woodpecker species drill into trees.
4. Pileated Woodpeckers
The Pileated Woodpeckers are one of the largest woodpecker species out there in the USA and Canada. They mainly eat insects, especially wood-boring beetle larvae, and carpenter ants by drilling a large oblong hole. They also eat fruits, nuts, and berries in colder season.
5. Red-Bellied Woodpeckers
The Red-Bellied Woodpeckers eat fruits and seeds more than insects. These omnivorous birds consume a wide variety of seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, and tree sap. They sometimes eat small fish, tree frogs, and insects including grasshoppers, caterpillars, ants, flies, and beetle larvae.
6. Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers
The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers eat tree sap, wood-boring insects, and ants. They also take inner bark and cambium as foods from trees. Sometimes, they drink nectar from hummingbird feeders. When the trees are covered with snow, they dine on nuts and fruits.
7. Red-Headed Woodpeckers
The red-headed woodpeckers mainly eat flying insects. They also consume seeds, nuts, acorns, pecans, beechnuts, berries, cultivated fruits, and wild fruits. They occasionally visit suet feeders, especially in the coldest months.
8. Lewis’s Woodpeckers
The Lewis’s Woodpeckers mostly eat insects, particularly flying insects. They also take wood-boring insects from a branch or tree trunk. Most importantly, they store grains, acorns, and peanuts in the late fall for cold winter months.
9. White Woodpeckers
There are 8 white woodpecker species available in the USA. All white woodpeckers have similar diets, including young insects and insect larvae. However, they don’t eat anything beneath the tree barks. In winter, they change their diet to nuts and berries.
10. Red-Breasted Sapsuckers
The Red-Breasted Sapsuckers mainly eat tree sap. Like Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers, they consume arthropods and various fruits. When they are looking for insects, they forage for them by flycatching, tapping, probing, or praying.
What Woodpeckers Eat Depending on Various Seasons
You may know that there are four seasons (summer, fall, winter, and spring) in North America. When it comes to woodpecker diet, they don’t eat the same food all year round. They change their diet depending on the season and the most abundant food sources.
#In the Spring: In the early and mid-spring, woodpeckers love to eat sweet tree sap after a long winter. In this period, a few other foods are available for them, especially various fruits and berries.
#In the Late Spring and Summer: Woodpeckers mainly feast on insects in the late spring and summer. These wild birds get a high amount protein from insects, which help them in breeding and growing their hatchlings.
#In the Fall: In this season, there are plentiful natural harvests out there all over North America. During this season, woodpeckers pretty much love to eat seeds, nuts, and fruits.
#In the Winter: Winter is the time of food scarcity for most birds. When it comes to woodpeckers, they eat seeds, nuts, and some leftover fruits on trees and bushes. They also consume suet provided by many birders. However, some woodpecker species store thousands of acorns. They even dine on hide seeds or dead insects.
Woodpecker Feeder Plans
If you’re willing to feed woodpeckers in your yard, you can use various feeders, depending on what you offer to them. Here we’re going to talk about a few essential feeders that you can need to feed these wild birds.
Suet feeders are an excellent way to feed woodpeckers with different suet recipes, including suet cakes and suet blocks. These feeders for woodpeckers should be upside-down so that other birds cannot eat from the feeders.
Are you looking for a good quality suet feeder to mount in your backyard? We recommend you purchase the Upside-Down Bird Feeder from Nature’s Way Bird Products (the link takes you to Amazon). This feeder has already obtained more than 1 thousand reviews.
Hopper or Tray Feeders
Multiple woodpecker species eat seeds, nuts, and fruits from hopper or tray feeders. These feeders are quite comfortable to perch on, especially for smaller woodpeckers, like Downy Woodpeckers that cling to various cage feeders while eating something.
You can find a variety of hopper or tray feeders both online and in the market. However, if you have trust on us, we can suggest you to pick the Woodlink Absolute II Squirrel Resistant Bird Feeder from Amazon. This double-sided feeder is made of durable powder-coated steel body.
Many woodpecker species occasionally drink nectar from hummingbird feeders, especially the feeders that have comparatively large feeding ports. You can see woodpeckers sipping from nectar feeders in summer and early fall.
Typically, nectar feeders comes with smaller feeding ports according to hummingbirds’ bills. If you’re looking for a nectar feeder suitable for woodpeckers, we can suggest you choose the More Birds Glory Hummingbird Feeder from Amazon.
Woodpecker Feeder Placement
- If you’re going to hang suet feeders for woodpeckers, you should place them near thick branches or tree trunks for good support.
- Hang hopper or tray feeders 3 to 4 feet above the ground so that other birds and predators cannot reach them.
- For nectar feeders, you need to place them near nectar-bearing flower plants.
Woodpecker Feeding Tips
To encourage woodpeckers to eat from your feeders, you have to make sure several things.
- Minimize applying pesticides and insecticides in your yard.
- Plant fruit trees, nut-bearing trees, and berry bushes for colder months.
- Grow seed-bearing flower plants in your backyard.
- Provide woodpeckers with a safe and secured feeding area.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Is drumming related to feeding?
Many birders think that woodpecker drumming indicates feeding. In fact, some woodpeckers drum to drill holes to pull the insects out to eat. They also drum to eat sap. Most importantly, drumming is mainly related to communication. In some cases, they warn their mates about potential predators, especially when drumming is loud.
2. Do woodpeckers eat wood?
Woodpeckers use their bills to drill wood so that they can pull the insects out. Also, they keep hitting the wood inform their mate about the presence of predators. Most importantly, woodpeckers don’t eat wood.
3. Do woodpeckers eat safflower seeds?
Downy woodpeckers love to eat safflower seeds. Besides, chickadees and titmice also like to eat these seeds. The color of safflower seeds is white. They are a bit smaller than black oil sunflower seeds. Good news is squirrels don’t like to eat safflower seeds.
4. Do woodpeckers eat baby birds or other adult birds?
Some woodpecker species, such as great spotted woodpeckers, eat other birds’ chicks. As they are omnivorous, they eat a mixture of seeds and insects. They also eat eggs and young birds from the nest when their parents are not present.
5. What eats woodpeckers?
Although woodpeckers are sometimes birds of prey, some organisms can be the predators of woodpeckers. These wild birds can be vulnerable to flying squirrels, falcons, hawks, red foxes, owls, raccoons, and some large snakes.
Now that you what woodpeckers actually eat, you can offer them with a variety of foods depending on different seasons. This way, you can see woodpeckers around your house all year round if you’re really a woodpecker lover.
However, we hope you appreciate our efforts in this article. If you have any experience with woodpeckers, or you feel anything necessary that we have missed to include in this post, feel free to let us know below in the comment section.