What Do Woodpeckers Eat?

Do you want to put food out for woodpeckers but don’t know what they eat? Maybe you have been asked to get food for woodpeckers who are clueless? Or are you curious and want to know more? No matter the reason that brought you here, I have the answer for you! 

Frustrated and overwhelmed, you wonder if you will ever know what woodpeckers eat. Well, no more! Today, I am here with the answers you need. Keep reading to find out what woodpeckers eat. I will walk you through their diet and some foods you can leave out for them too. Get ready to become a woodpecker expert today! 

Photo by Imogen Warren

What is a Woodpecker?

Before I get started, let’s have a brief recap for anyone that needs it. A woodpecker is part of the Picidae bird family. The small birds are known for chiseling nest holes and probing inspects in tree bark. There are over 300 species across the globe, with over 20 found in the United States.

Woodpeckers are known for the drumming sound they make as their beaks hit the bark. They do this either to excavate nesting holes or to dig out grubs and larvae from the bark.

You can expect to see woodpeckers in most places except New Guinea and Australia. Typically, they are most commonly found in Southeast Asia and South America.

In the U.S. woodpeckers are known to frequent backyards, in the hunt for new food and tree bark to forage in. They are a delightful bird to witness and one that can be lured to your backyard, provided there is some food there.

Now that I have briefly established what a woodpecker is, let’s review some of the more unusual species found across America and find out what they eat! 

Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis)

Photo by Arthur A. Allen

Largely believed to be extinct, the last recorded sighting on eBird of this incredible bird was in 1935. Very little is known about this bird and it is the Holy Grail of bird watching in the U.S.

Lewis’s Woodpecker(Melanerpes lewis)

Photo by naturespicsonline

A reasonably common woodpecker of western areas of continental America, the Lewis’s Woodpecker is one of the less famous species. However, it has to be one of the most attractive!

Gilded Flicker (Colaptes chrysoides)

Photo by Glenn Seplak

Found only in southern California and Arizona, the Gilded Flicker is unsual in that it prefers the saguaro cactus to trees to nest in.

American Three-toed ( WoodpeckerPicoides dorsalis)

Photo by pbonenfant

Found in the mid and north west states as well as far north eastern areas, the American Three-toed Woodpecker is an attractive little bird that lives in higher elevations like the Rockies.

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)

Photo by Frank Schulenburg

The Acorn Woodpecker is resident in south western states and up the Pacific coast to the north west. It is a distinctive woodpecker and as the name suggests, live in oak forests.

What do Woodpeckers eat?

Let’s dive straight into it! There are a few common foods that woodpeckers eat. These include the following: 

  • Flower nectar
  • Berries and fruits (including juice from broken fruit) 
  • Seeds
  • Nuts 
  • Tree sap
  • Insects – mainly wood-boring insects, ants, grubs, and spiders

These are all foods that woodpeckers will naturally find in the wild. There might be some differences depending on their habitat, but usually, woodpeckers will live off insects, nuts and seeds falling from the trees and any berries and fruits they find. 

If they make their home in a berry tree, for example, they are more likely to eat berries than woodpeckers that have made their home in a nut-boring tree. 

Flooding, damage to trees, fires that have killed insects, and other disasters that occur in nature can wipe out some of these food groups for woodpeckers, limiting their options. 

What can I feed Woodpeckers?

Photo by Imogen Warren

If you have woodpeckers visiting your backyard or are looking for food to entice them, you have a few options you can choose from. Some of these will include foods that they can find in the wild, and other little treats that are sure to get woodpeckers in your backyard! Here is a list below for you to peruse now! 

  • Suet – you can make your own with beef fat from a butcher or purchase it from a store if you prefer. 
  • Peanuts – opt for unsalted peanuts when giving them to woodpeckers and other birds. 
  • Black sunflower seeds – these are enjoyed most by hairy and downy woodpeckers. 
  • Peanut butter – smear this on tree trunks to attract woodpeckers to your garden. It is also a delicious treat for them! 
  • Crushed or small pieces of fruit – apples, oranges, and grapes can be consumed by woodpeckers, just make sure they are in small enough pieces for them to pick up and eat.
  • Corn – corn can be sprinkled around your backyard or left on feeders for woodpeckers. Just remember that this could also attract other animals to your yard! 
Photo by Imogen Warren

What should I avoid feeding Woodpeckers?

As good as it is to know what you should feed woodpeckers, it’s also worth knowing what you should avoid giving them. The last thing you want is to harm woodpeckers (or any creatures)! 

Below I have compiled a list of the worst foods to leave out for birds. These apply to all birds, including woodpeckers, so no matter the birds you have visiting your garden, make sure you avoid leaving these out. 

  • Spoiled seed or bird food – rotting bird food is full of dangerous bacteria that can cause diseases. 
  • Milk – most birds are lactose intolerant so milk should be avoided at all costs 
  • Salt – salt can only be processed by birds in very small quantities, so avoid any foods with an added or high salt content 
  • Honey – honey can harbor bacteria or mold that is fatal to some birds and should be avoided. 
  • Cookies – all kinds of cookies should be avoided as the processed ingredients can be dangerous for birds. 
  • Raw meat – raw meat can spoil quickly and be full of dangerous bacteria for birds to consume! 
  • Potato chips – these are full of processed chemicals that are not tested on birds, so we don’t know the dangers they possess! 
  • Pesticides – anything that has been treated with herbicides or pesticides should be avoided as they can be fatal to birds. 
  • Old nectar – when nectar appears cloudy it should be avoided. Make sure you refresh nectar every few days to ensure the birds aren’t eating anything dangerous! 
  • Bread – avoid large quantities of bread as it offers very little nutrition. 
Photo by Imogen Warren

Final Thoughts 

And there you have it! Woodpeckers typically eat nuts, seeds, berries, and insects, but they can also enjoy some peanut butter, suet, and corn!

Make sure you avoid all the foods on my list of dangerous foods to keep the woodpeckers visiting you healthy and happy! 


Do woodpeckers eat wood?

No, they just peck at it to make nesting holes or uncover grubs and larvae to eat.

Do woodpeckers damage trees?

No, the larger holes they make for nesting or smaller ones for bug hunting might look serious but the trees can cope with them.

How do you stop woodpeckers from pecking wood?

I guess you might not want them to peck holes in your prized trees so you can cover any affected areas with chicken wire.

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