What Do Woodpeckers Eat in the WIld?

These majestic birds may be hard to miss once they start pecking at a tree. With the force and effort they put in, you might think they’re trying to get their nourishment from tree bark. But considering that’s only a misconception, what do woodpeckers actually eat in the wild?

Woodpeckers tend to change their diets depending on the season. But they primarily eat insects like ants, beetles, and termites. During spring and summer, they also have a taste for tree sap, flower nectar, seeds, and fruits. But if food is scarce, they can also prey on small lizards and birds.

What do woodpeckers eat?

Since most species of woodpeckers thrive in woodland areas, their food sources vary because of the abundance of critters and foliage in their environment. One great thing about them is their ability to adapt their diet according to what’s available. So if you want to know what their diets are composed of, here are a few of their favorite foods:

1. Insects

One of the reasons why woodpeckers tend to drill holes in trees is to gain access to wood-boring insects like spiders, termites, ants, and beetles. With their long tongues, they can then easily scoop a healthy serving of tasty bugs.

Aside from being abundant in woody areas, a woodpecker’s diet is primarily composed of insects because of their high protein content – which their body needs since they tend to peck trees at high frequencies at least 20 times a day! 

2. Tree sap

Tree sap may not be a woodpecker’s top choice for food, but if other sources are scarce they tend to seek them out. Since the sap contains sugar, this will give them a boost of energy and help them cool down during hot summer days.

Sapsuckers are known for drinking this sweet liquid no matter what time of the year. But instead of sucking the sap out of trees, they drill holes and sip out of them. So if you see a tree with closely-spaced holes, you’ll know a sapsucker has made its mark.

3. Flower nectar

Since flower nectar tends to be abundant during spring, woodpeckers also like to take a taste alongside hummingbirds. Some species, like the blond-crested woodpecker, tend to visit several flowers and take a sip out of them. 

As a result, they play a part in pollinating flowers in the wild since their head and throat touch the anthers and stigmas of flowers whenever they fly from one to another.

4. Fruits

Depending on the region, fruit trees and berry bushes can be abundant in the wild. That’s why woodpeckers flock to them because they’re attracted to their sweetness!

Woodpeckers favor apples, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, oranges, and more. But they will also drink the juice from broken fruits. These are good sources of food for the woodpeckers in colder months since insects will be scarce during this time.

5. Acorns

Similar to squirrels, acorn woodpeckers got their name because they also like to collect acorns. To prepare for winter, acorn woodpeckers tend to set aside acorns in their homes to get them by when food is scarce. Acorns may not contain high levels of protein or be as sweet as fruits, but they can store for months until food sources become abundant again.

To make sure they have plenty of acorns for winter, acorn woodpeckers like to start gathering during late summer or fall.

6. Seeds

In the fall, woodpeckers make the most out of harvest season by munching on some seeds. Since they contain protein and other vitamins, seeds are great sources of nourishment.

If they can find them, black oil sunflower seeds are a favorite among woodpeckers. But pine seeds can also be accessible since they can drill them in pine cones. 

Similar to pollinating flowers, woodpeckers can also help grow vegetation in the wild by spreading and dropping seeds throughout the area. If you’re lucky, a woodpecker may also fly through your yard and accidentally drop a few seeds along the way.

7. Lizards and salamanders

Small lizards and salamanders aren’t always up on the menu for woodpeckers. But if the need arises, they won’t hesitate to snap one up. Lizards and salamanders are easy to digest and rich in protein, so they’re fair game for a hungry woodpecker.

But if the prey makes an attempt to escape by hiding inside a tree, the woodpecker will tap and tug repeatedly until they get their meal.

8. Birds and eggs

It may be shocking to think of woodpeckers eating other bird species. But in cases of extreme food shortages, they may be forced to attack bird nests. 

Some species – like the red-headed and red-bellied woodpeckers, will fly to other birds’ nests and eat their eggs or young when they’re left unattended. But this only happens rarely when a woodpecker is desperate for food.