what do baby woodpeckers eat

What Do Baby Woodpeckers Eat?

While it’s illegal to keep woodpeckers as pets, this doesn’t mean you can’t help if you find one that’s still a baby, injured, or sick. If you’ve come across a baby woodpecker and you’re trying to care for it until a wildlife rehab center takes it in, or if you’re just curious about those little birds, this article is for you. So what do baby woodpeckers eat?

Baby woodpeckers aren’t all that different from other baby birds as they require a protein-rich diet. As such, baby woodpeckers can eat small insects, nuts, seeds, fruit, and tree sap brought in by the parents. At home, you can feed them mealworms, canned dog food, moistened dog biscuits, raw liver, and hard-boiled eggs.

Keep reading to find out more about the diet of a baby woodpecker and how can you best care for one.

What do Parent Woodpeckers Feed their Offspring?

Ivory billed woodpecker

Woodpeckers alter their diets and that of their babies according to the most available food sources at the time.

In the spring, tree sap is a popular item on the menu when only a few other foods can be found. The sweet and rich sap would be rising in generous amounts in trees reawakening after winter.

In the spring and summer, adult and baby woodpeckers will mostly eat insects (wood-boring insects, grubs, spiders, and ants) as they provide high protein content for breeding birds and growing younglings.

In the fall, nuts, seeds, and fruit become a primary part of woodpeckers’ diet because of the abundance of natural harvests. In the winter, seeds and nuts are also the most common foods, along with some leftover fruit on bushes and trees.

What Diet is Most Appropriate for a Baby Woodpecker?

According to bird veterinarian Andrea Roberts, if you find yourself having to feed a baby woodpecker, then you should try and mimic its natural diet as closely as possible.

Author Note: Like most baby birds, baby woodpeckers get all the nutrients and fluids that they need for healthy growth from eating protein-rich insects and grubs. As such, your easiest and best option would be going down to your local pet store and buying something called ‘mealworms’.

This type of pet food is usually meant for geckos and other reptile pets to feast on, but it’s quite beneficial for birds as well. Mealworms are loaded with nutritional value and they also offer a high water content.

As a result, you probably won’t need to use the dropper to feed water, which is a plus because it’s very likely for inexperienced individuals to accidentally allow fluid to enter the bird’s lungs. Generally speaking, baby woodpeckers get all their fluid requirements from eating insects and grubs.

What Foods Can You Give a Baby Woodpecker?

When it comes to the exact type of food a baby woodpecker – or any baby bird for that matter- should be fed, the opinions widely vary. However, most experts do agree that the specific food you give a baby woodpecker isn’t very important as long as it’s getting the required nutrients for healthy growth.

While it’s true that different breeds of adult birds follow varying diets (some mostly eat insects, others primarily feed on seeds and berries), the majority of baby birds share rather similar needs and should be given food high in protein levels.

Baby woodpeckers are no exception. You can give them moist dog food, raw liver (no seasoning), hard-boiled eggs, moistened dog biscuits and moistened dog or cat kibble.

Here are a couple of excellent basic recipes to feed a baby woodpecker:

Recipe #1

A great starter diet for a recently hatched wild bird like a woodpecker consists of 60% puppy or kitten kibble, 20% hard-boiled eggs, and 20% mealworms (you can buy those online or from your local pet store).

You should moisten the kibble with water until it reaches a sponge-like texture. Don’t let it drip water because it’s possible for a baby woodpecker to drown in the excess liquid.

Additionally, you should chop the hard-boiled eggs and mealworms into pieces small enough for the baby bird to swallow easily.

Recipe #2

Another good recipe for feeding a baby woodpecker consists of:

  • 1 can wet dog food (or 2 cups of dry dog food moistened and mashed)
  • 1/2 cup poultry mash (this is a terrific source of calcium and other essential vitamins)
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped hard-boiled egg

What Foods Should You Not Give a Baby Woodpecker?

how to scare woodpeckers away from your house

Right off the bat, you should not feed a baby woodpecker bread or milk. A lot of people make this mistake with baby birds and often end up harming them.

You see, birds aren’t like mammals; they can’t digest milk. It’s not a part of a bird’s natural diet so they’ll be intolerant to it.

Author Note: As for bread, it’s full of empty calories and won’t provide the baby bird with enough nutrients to survive. Also, whatever food you give the baby woodpecker, you should make sure you serve it at room temperature.

Additional examples of foods or liquids you shouldn’t give a baby woodpecker include:

  • Water (Typically, water shouldn’t be given orally to any baby bird because the fluid is likely to enter and fill their lungs, causing them to drown)
  • Worms
  • Pet bird food
  • Kitchen scraps
  • Whole birdseed

How often do Baby Woodpeckers Eat?

Baby woodpeckers, like most baby birds, eat quite frequently. They have very demanding feeding schedules where their parents literally make hundreds of feeding trips every day.

Ideally, you want to feed a baby woodpecker every 15 to 30 minutes from sunrise to sunset.

You can use a syringe, pipette, or eye-dropper for feeding. The more mature the baby woodpecker is, the longer it can go between feedings and the more “adult” food it can eat without harm.

How to Feed a Baby Woodpecker

Using the correct feeding technique is crucial to ensure that the baby woodpecker gets enough nutrition to survive.

In general, baby birds should be fed very carefully. The best tools you can use are either a pair of dull tweezers or plastic forceps.

If you can’t get your hands on any of these, you can try using a chopstick that’s narrow enough to fit in the bird’s mouth.

  • To start feeding, grab a tiny bit of food with the tweezers or forceps or on the edge of the chopstick then drop it into the baby woodpecker’s mouth directly. If you’re worried that the food will go down the wrong way, don’t be. The bird’s glottis will shut on its own while feeding.
  • If the baby bird’s mouth isn’t opening, tap the beak gently with the feeding instrument or lightly rub the food around the edge of the beak. This will help the baby woodpecker understand that it’s time to eat.
  • If the bird still won’t open its mouth, you’ll need to gently and carefully force it open.
  • Continue feeding the baby birds until it starts rejecting the food or becomes less eager to open its beak.
  • Avoid overfeeding the baby woodpecker.

Tips for Feeding a Baby Woodpecker

Great spotted woodpecker

Here are a few important tips to keep in mind when feeding a baby woodpecker:

  • Offer food that has a spongy consistency.
  • Do not offer food that’s dripping with water because the excess fluid could cause choking or drowning.
  • All dry food should be softened before being offered to a baby woodpecker.
  • Food should be offered at room temperature only. Do not warm the food, heat it, refrigerate it, or chill it.
  • Feed the bird small bits of food and keep them in proportion to its size. The tinier the birds, the smaller the bites they need.
  • Mash, cut, or crush food to suit the baby bird’s size.
  • While feeding the baby bird, offer as little as possible to reduce the risk of additional stress or injury.
  • Never use too much force to pry the bird’s beak open to eat. Always be gentle.
  • Keep the bird warm. This is important to get it to eat. Wrap the baby woodpecker in a towel and put it under your shirt close to your skin.
  • Do not feed the bird when it’s cold. It’s not that it won’t eat, but it won’t be able to digest the food it downs. In this case, feeding could do more harm than good.
  • Do your best to create a low-stress environment for the baby woodpecker. Like most baby birds, it won’t thrive and eat unless kept in calm, low-stress conditions.

Wrap Up

Author Note: So what do baby woodpeckers eat? In nature, they feed on small insects, nuts, seeds, fruit, and tree sap brought in by the parents. At home, you can feed them mealworms, canned dog food, moistened dog biscuits, raw liver, and hard-boiled eggs.

Remember that feeding a baby wild bird should only be an emergency measure. If you find one that’s abandoned and needs care, contact or take it to a bird rescue organization as soon as possible.

Professionals there will help baby birds learn how to find food, evade predators, and several other skills required for a successful life in the wild. We hope you enjoyed this article on what do baby woodpeckers eat.

Fly high friends!


Can I keep and continue feeding a baby woodpecker?

No. The chances of survival for any baby bird being reared by humans is low and by an inexperienced human it is practically zero. It needs to be looked after by experts. Refer to your local rescue center.

Why do woodpeckers eat more bugs in summer?

Firstly, because there are more available and secondly, because the high protein levels in bugs helps the chicks grow quickly.

How many woodpecker species are there in the U.S.?

There are over 20 species of woodpecker that are resident or visit the U.S.

Comments 1
  1. I found a baby woodpecker in my yard. It tries to fly but can do it yet. I brought it in the house because there are cats out there. I want to feed it but it won’t open its beak. Is on a rod of a lamp in the kitchen. It’s Friday so I can’t contact anyone until Monday. I really want to care for it. I hope your info will help. Thanks.

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