What Do Woodpeckers Eat in the Winter?

what-do-woodpeckers-eat-in-winter

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During the spring and summer months when the fruit is plentiful, it can make up as much as 50% of a woodpecker’s diet. The rest comes from a variety of sources, primarily insects. But what do woodpeckers eat in the winter when these 2 main food sources aren’t available?

In colder climates where insects are hard to find during the winter months, woodpeckers can still get their fill of grubs and larvae, seeds and nuts, and berries. 

These are often found in the trunks and branches of trees, and woodpeckers got their name from their unique method of getting at them (though this drumming is also used to establish territory). There are also a variety of other foods available to woodpeckers in the winter.

8 Things Woodpeckers Eat During Winter

Insect Eggs

Woodpeckers are unique birds in that they can peck on wood to find food. While many people think that they just eat insects, woodpeckers eat a variety of things, including insect eggs, larvae, spiders, grubs, and ants. Perhaps the most interesting thing that they eat is mealworms – whether they are alive or dried.

Suet

Woodpeckers love suet! Suet is a high-energy, tasty food that provides lots of energy to these wild birds. You can offer suet straight from the butcher shop to woodpeckers in a suet cage feeder to attract them to your yard.

If you want to provide woodpeckers with suet, you can purchase suet blocks from the market or make your own blends by mixing nuts, fruits, and insects with the suet. You can also smear suet on trees that woodpeckers visit.

Peanuts

Woodpeckers can enjoy a variety of foods in the winter, including peanuts and pine nuts. Feeding woodpeckers peanuts is a great way to attract them to your yard, and they provide protein and fats that are essential for their diet. However, it’s important to use feeders that are safe for woodpeckers and discourage unwanted visitors. Avoid flavored or salted peanuts, because these can be harmful to the birds. If you have pine trees, you can also see these birds eating the pine nuts.

Nectar

Many people are surprised to learn that woodpeckers sometimes drink nectar from hummingbird feeders, although their 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 have an easier time drinking nectar, place a nectar feeder in your yard which has large feeding ports that are suitable for woodpeckers.

Seeds & Nuts

Woodpeckers are famous for their ability to hammer away at trees in search of insects. But they also eat seeds and nuts during the winter months, when other food sources are scarce.

During this time of year, woodpeckers will often visit backyard feeders that have been stocked with sunflower seeds or peanuts. They’ll perch on nearby branches while eating these foods.

Acorns

Just like squirrels, woodpeckers have been known to hide stashes of acorns and return to them in the winter when food is harder to find. Acorns make an especially great treat for them because it satisfies their hunger without making too much noise or attracting unwanted attention from predators like hawks or owls.

Berries

You’ve seen from this list that woodpeckers have figured out many sources of food for the winter months, but so far this menu is relatively bland compared to the high amount of fruit they eat during the summer. So it’s no surprise to hear that they occasionally want something with a little more flavor, and will also eat leftover berries that are still on or near bushes from the summer months.

Tree Sap

Tree sap is high in sugar content, which provides energy that helps them survive through tough times when food sources are scarce. Woodpeckers pecking into trees can damage the bark and expose insects hiding underneath it, which makes any quest for tree sap a two-for-one special.

How do woodpeckers reach their food?

Woodpeckers can create tunnels into trees to access grubs and other insects, but how do they actually get their meal out of the tree and into their bellies?

Woodpeckers have incredibly long tongues that can stick out significantly farther than the end of their breaks. Their tongue also has barbs that point backward and can spear anything the woodpecker wants to get at. Some species even have saliva that can turn a bit gluey and act as an adhesive. All the woodpecker needs to do is open up a tunnel, stick out its tongue, and reel in any food that they’ve found inside.

As the colder weather begins to set in, woodpeckers will start their food search. Woodpeckers typically begin feeding near the base of a tree and work their way upward, spiraling around it. They probe into every nook and cranny as they go, and will venture out onto larger limbs by hanging onto the underside of horizontal branches. When they reach the top, they move over to the next tree and start again at the bottom.

Although woodpeckers can survive in cold weather by eating larvae and pupae that hibernate in rotten wood or under bark, some migratory species will search for food elsewhere. In warmer climates, there are still plenty of insects like ants that don’t fully disappear from one season to the next.

Woodpecker Diets Vary Between Species

Woodpeckers have a diverse range of diets, from eating ants and beetles to fruit and suet fat. They feed on earthworms, termites, slugs, snails, and even the occasional frog or fish! They are so versatile that some species can eat as many as 200 different types of food. This is an adaptation to unpredictable times in the woodpecker’s environment when the weather can be too hot or cold for certain foods to grow.

Different woodpecker species have developed regionally so that the woodpeckers of each species can be found in a particular part of the country. Because woodpeckers have different options available to them based on their location, this also means they have vastly different diets from one species to the next.

You Can Feed Your Woodpeckers, But You Don’t Need To

Many bird enthusiasts have taken to providing woodpeckers with food in the winter when it’s more scarce. Your local woodpeckers will appreciate a suet block mixed with berries, nuts, and seeds. They’ve even been known to take peanut butter if it’s left out for them. Luckily, though, woodpeckers aren’t reliant on these food sources and can find enough to eat without human help, even during the winter.

About author
Robert has been an avid birdwatcher pretty much his entire life. Living in the suburbs he does his best to bring wild birds into his backyard. He currently has 13+ bird feeders in his yard and also raises and races homing pigeons. Robert writes part-time for Wild Yards, mostly about the subject he cares most about - birds.

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