woodpecker, common name for members of the Picidae, a large family of climbing birds found in most parts of the world. Woodpeckers typically have sharp, chisellike bills for pecking holes in tree trunks, and long, barbed, extensible tongues with which they impale their insect prey. Their spiny tail feathers act as a prop in climbing, resting, and drilling. Usually the male has a red or orange patch on its head and barred and spotted black or brown plumage with light underparts. Among the North American woodpeckers are the sociable downy woodpecker, Picus pubescens (about 61/2 in./17 cm long); the similar but larger hairy woodpecker, P. villosus, the red-crested pileated woodpecker, or logcock, Hylotomus pileatus (about 17 in./44.3 cm long), which is similar to the possibly extinct ivory-billed woodpecker; the redheaded and three-toed woodpeckers, genus Picoides; and the California woodpecker, genus Colaptes, which makes small holes in trees for storing acorns. The flickers, genus Melanerpes, the only brown-backed woodpeckers, sometimes capture insects on the ground. The yellow-shafted flicker is known by many local names (e.g., high hole and yellowhammer) and interbreeds with the red-shafted flicker. The sapsuckers (e.g., the red-breasted and yellow-bellied sapsuckers) may damage or kill trees by girdling them with small holes through which they eat some of the cambium and drink sap; they also feed on ants and wild fruit. The piculets are tiny (3–5 in./7.6–12.7 cm long) Old and New World woodpeckers. The woodpecker family also includes the Old World wryneck, which does not peck wood. Woodpeckers are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Piciformes, family Picidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.