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Discover Nature: Winter Woodpeckers

A downy woodpecker with black and white feathers on its body and a red patch at top back of its head pecks at a yellow-white block of suet in a green wire birdfeeder.
A male downy woodpecker pecks at a suet feeder. Watch for a variety of woodpecker species in the woods and at feeders this week.

Did you know there are more than 200 species of woodpeckers in the world? This week on Discover Nature, look and listen for the seven species that call Missouri home.

Hairy, downy, pileated, and red-bellied woodpeckers live in Missouri year-round, while the migratory northern flickers, red-headed woodpeckers, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers are temporary residents of the Show-Me state. 

Special adaptations help woodpeckers climb and drum on trees: Feet with two toes facing forward, and two facing backward help them grip vertical surfaces, and stiff tail feathers serve to stabilize them as they scoot up and down trees. 

Their long, bristle-tipped tongues are supported by bones that wrap around their skulls and attach to their nostrils. 

Woodpeckers use vocal calls in combination with drumming sounds to communicate with each other. But when drumming on trees, they’re doing more than just making noise. They use these drumming techniques to locate grubs and insects beneath the bark of trees, just as we might tap a hammer along a wall to find a hidden stud. 

While wood-boring bugs comprise much of their diet, woodpeckers also eat nuts and fruits, and now can be a great time to watch for them at suet feeders in your yard. 

Learn more about woodpeckers of Missouri with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide, and find a conservation area near you to go see these birds in the wild. For more information on birding opportunities in Missouri, visit the Great Missouri Birding Trail

 Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Kyle Felling was born in the rugged northwest Missouri hamlet of St. Joseph (where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended). Inspired from a young age by the spirit of the early settlers who used St. Joseph as an embarkation point in their journey westward, Kyle developed the heart of an explorer and yearned to leave for adventures of his own. Perhaps as a result of attending John Glenn elementary school, young Kyle dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but was disheartened when someone told him that astronauts had to be good at math. He also considered being a tow truck driver, and like the heroes of his favorite childhood television shows (The A-Team and The Incredible Hulk) he saw himself traveling the country, helping people in trouble and getting into wacky adventures. He still harbors that dream.
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