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Some of you might have seen a woodpecker pecking at a thick tree trunk, maybe when you’re out on a morning walk running down a track in between large trees. Unfortunately, that wood pecking behavior leads to them making a hole in a tree they use as a nest.
Many people are fond of woodpeckers and want to learn more about their nests, how they make them, what they do, and whether they reuse them later or not. Well, to answer your curiosities and questions, we must dive deeper into the facts associated with their nesting habits.
Woodpeckers prefer nesting in areas where there are open forests or fields with a bit of greenery on the ground. They look for dead trees and dead parts of trees, which they peck a hole in and use as a nest for when they want to lay eggs.
Amazing Facts about Woodpeckers Nest
Woodpeckers are mysterious perfectionists that like to poke out a perfect entrance for their nests.
Keep reading to learn some fascinating facts about the nests these birds make.
Fact #1: Woodpeckers Nest in Dead Trees (or dead parts of live trees)
It is not a widely known fact, but woodpeckers prefer nesting in dead trees or dead parts of live trees, which is new information to most birdwatchers. Woodpeckers actively look for dead trees because they have softer wood; therefore, they are preferred by them for nesting.
Decayed trees have a weaker trunk surface which makes it easier for woodpeckers to make holes in them.
Woodpeckers choose parts of trunks far above the ground to protect baby chicks from predators and other potential dangers looming close to the ground outside their nests. These noisy little birds prefer making south-facing entrances to ensure more comfort and warmth inside the nests.
If you come across a tree trunk with fungus or some kind of damage, remember that it’s an excellent site for a woodpecker to make a nest.
If the hole is of the right width and form and looks to be freshly carved, simply observe it for a few minutes to see if a woodpecker enters or leaves from inside the trunk. You could use binoculars to observe this phenomenon.
Fact #2: Woodpeckers Strip Off the Out Layers of Tree Trunk Before Starting the Pecking Process
Have you ever noticed that some trees, especially during the winter season, have partially or fully removed/damaged barks? These trees look really dramatic and are quite easy to spot. All of this is done by woodpeckers; they remove the outermost layers of bark so that they can poke holes easily in the tree.
Doing so allows them to conveniently punch a perfect hole in the bark, allowing them to create a perfectly constructed nest inside the tree trunk. Spruce trees, fruit trees, sweet gums, Pine trees, and birch trees are the most frequently damaged trees by woodpeckers.
Another reason why woodpeckers actively damage the outer layer of the bark is to get to the plump larvae and other tasty insects underneath the layers.
Fact #3: Woodpeckers Nest in Tree Cavities
Have you ever noticed a tree with a cavity in it? Or have you noticed that some branches or other parts of trees are dying out? If so, before you do anything to address this problem, think of how these cavities and dead tree parts can help provide a shelter for woodpeckers and other wildlife animals.
Tree cavities are often used by woodpeckers during their nesting period; they provide them with a safe place for sleeping, raising their chicks, safety and protection from predators, and a dry shelter that keeps heat loss during cold temperatures in control.
Woodpeckers are primary cavity excavators, which essentially means that they will carve out a cavity in woods that appear dead but intact enough to nest in. Both males and females will start the excavating process, which is used for raising baby woodpeckers.
Red-billed, downy, red-headed, pileated, and downy woodpeckers excavate cavities in dead trees and dead branches of live trees.
The Pileated Woodpecker may chip out a two feet deep chamber.
Fact #4: They Use Woodchips as Nesting Material
Woodpeckers have been observed using minimal nesting materials to build their nests; they mostly use straw, feathers, twigs, grass, and bits of bark and woodchips produced during the excavation process—it could be anything.
The holes they chip out are comfortable as is, which is why woodpeckers aren’t focused on collecting twigs and straws to make the nest comfortable for its brood. They do focus on the depth and shape of the nest they carve out to make sure their babies grow comfortable there.
Fact #5: Woodpeckers Do Not Reuse Their Nests
Woodpeckers indeed spend weeks trying to build a perfect nest, but some of them, like downy and hairy woodpeckers, never come around to reuse it or lay eggs in there again. Why is that? The nest is filled with bird feces, eggshells, and other nasty stuff, which sometimes makes the nest unbearably unfit to be reused again.
Downy, pileated, and hairy woodpeckers excavate new cavities each year regardless of the circumstances that they might be in; however, other species of woodpeckers return each spring to the same nests to lay eggs in and reuse the same spot.
Fact #6: Nest Construction Takes About 3-6 Weeks
A woodpecker will work on a nest cavity in short bursts. The work takes 3-6 weeks from start till the end. Males are more active than females, but both can cooperate and contribute equally.
Within two hours, a concentrated pileated woodpecker may create two deep and rather broad holes. So, in an ideal world, if a woodpecker just had to work on its nest cavity and didn’t have to venture far to get food or hide from larger animals, they might work quicker and maybe even finish in a few days.
One woodpecker spends two hours excavating two holes 15 cm deep with entrances 15 x 25 cm in size.
The pace at which woodpeckers remove wood depends on the softness of the wood and a the bird’s general health.
If the wood of a tree is partially rotten, the woodpecker may build a nest hole more rapidly, but the strong wood outside the center of the tree maintains the huge opening, preventing the tree from collapsing.
Fact #7: Nest Cavity’s Depth Can Range From 10-24 Inches
Woodpeckers are known for excavating cavities in dead and insect-infested trees built by both the partners, male and female. Most of the excavation starts with a small crack in the wood, dug out in a perfectly shaped cavity.
Woodpeckers dig out deeper cavities so that their chicks can stay warm when they’re inside the tree. Their nests’ structure prevents heat loss and maintains a warm temperature within the nest which traps the body warmth inside the cavity so that chicks remain cozy.
Some woodpeckers, like pileated woodpeckers, dig out a two-foot-deep chamber. It all depends on their size and the broadness of a tree’s trunk that they’re nesting in.
Woodpeckers are perfectionists, they carve out perfect circles when making an entrance for their nests.
Fact #8: Baby Woodpeckers Stay in Their Nests for About 3 Weeks Only After Hatching
Just like any other baby bird, woodpeckers’ babies also stay in the nest for roughly about 3 weeks before they can finally leap out of the nest and fly on their own. Soon after fledging, they can catch their own food since they are strong fliers.
During the first few days after fledging, they stay close to their nest and are still fed by their parents, but when it’s time to venture and explore, they’re taught how to look for food. Then after some time, when baby woodpeckers grow up and are self-sufficient, they are driven away by their parents away from the nesting area.
Fledglings may not return to the nest after leaving their nest but might visit the same spot after some time which isn’t proven yet.
Read this interesting post to find out interesting facts about when do woodpeckers lay eggs.
Are you curious to know when do woodpeckers lay eggs? Read this post to learn fascinating facts.
Fact #9: Woodpeckers Also Like Nesting in a Manmade Nest Box
Cavity inserts or nest boxes are an alternative to the cavities that woodpeckers excavate in hollow trees. These artificial nesting sites for woodpeckers are mostly placed in urbanized areas with no woods or tree trunks for woodpeckers to nest in.
But alternatively, cavity inserts can be provided, consisting of a nest box glued to a tree to give the impression of a tree with a hole in it. These boxes are used to provide nesting spaces for woodpeckers, especially if people don’t want woodpeckers to damage the trees in their backyards.
It is not hard to recognize a woodpecker’s nest out in the wild, especially if you’re taking a stroll down a forested area. Most of these birds have an interesting way of building their nests which is quite unique from what other birds usually do.
Woodpeckers are quiet and reserved birds who prefer living in a secure and peaceful environment, which is why they aren’t seen making much noise like how other chirpy birds do. Their nesting behavior is also quite interesting, which you may have understood after reading the interesting facts shared.
To know more about the behavior of these birds, read this post to identify whether woodpeckers migrate or not.
Are you particularly intrigued by these colorful birds’ migration patterns? Read the post below for some fantastic and mind-boggling information.
David A. Swanson
Bird Watching USA
My name is David and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!