Animals -> Birds -> Other Birds -> Woodpeckers


Woodpeckers, likely to have included Pileated Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers and Downy Woodpeckers, were prominent in the diet of the Red Earth Cree [1]. The Onondaga (Iroquois) and Micmac (Mi'kmaq) were also known to consume woodpecker [2-4]. Woodpeckers were abundant for Algonquian and Iroquoian cultures of the Mississippi Valley, the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes [5]. Some Northwest cultures also reportedly consumed woodpecker; however woodpecker was not considered fit for human consumption by other cultures, including the Kaska, Kutchin (Gwich’in) or Upper Stalo [6-9].

The Micmac would pluck the feathers from woodpeckers before roasting on spits [3]. The Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) hunted woodpeckers for their meat and decorative plumage [10]. The feathers of a red-headed woodpecker, perhaps the Red-Breasted Sapsucker, were used by Northwest Coast cultures to make arrows and tamahnous head-bands [11]. The Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth) of Vancouver Island and Cape Flattery included dried woodpecker heads in medicine bundles, believing that this would ensure a hunter to be ahead in fishing because woodpeckers are the headbirds of all small birds [12].


1.         Meyer D: Appendix I: Plants, Animals and Climate; Appendix IV: Subsistence-Settlement Patterns. In: The Red Earth Crees, 1860-1960. Volume 1st edition, edn.: National Musem of Man Mercury Series; 1985: 175-185-200-223.

2.         Waugh FW. In: Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation. edn. Ottawa: Department of Mines. Government Printing Bureau; 1973.

3.         Stoddard NB: Micmac Foods, vol. re-printed from the Journal of Education February 1966. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Halifax Natural Science Museum; 1970.

4.         Waugh FW: Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation, vol. No. 12; Anthropological Series. Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau; 1916.

5.         Hughes JD: Forest Indians: the holy occupation. Environ 1977, NO. 1:2-13.

6.         Nelson RK: Hunters of the Northern Forest: Designs for Survival among the Alaskan Kutchin. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press; 1973.

7.         Honigmann JJ: The Kaska Indians: An Ethnographic Reconstruction. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1954.

8.         Osgood C: Material Culture: Food. In: Contributions to the Ethnography of the Kutchin. edn. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1936: 23-39.

9.         Duff W: The Upper Stalo Indians of the Fraser Valley, British Columbia. Victoria,B.C.: British Columbia Provincial Museum; 1952.

10.       Government of British Columbia: Vol 7: Kwakiutl. Victoria: British Columbia Department of Education; 1966.

11.       Eells M: The Indians of Puget Sound: The Notebooks of Myron Eells. Seattle: University of Washington Press; 1985.

12.       Arima EY: The West Coast People: The Nootka of Vancouver Island and Cape Flattery, vol. Special Publication No. 6. Victoria, B.C.: British Columbia Provincial Musem; 1983.

Woodpeckers are a family of arboreal birds, with long, chisel-shaped bills for drilling and drumming on trees, long, sticky tongues for extracting food, and specialized feet and stiffened tails used in perching on and creeping up tree trunks. They have rounded wings and fly with an undulating up and down pattern. Most woodpeckers are black and white with red highlights. They are mainly found in wooded areas, but can be found in tundra, deserts, and treeless grasslands. Most woodpeckers feed mainly on insects by boring into dead or live wood. They nest in tree cavities, excavated each year, and lined with fresh wood chips. They lay around 5 eggs incubated and cared for by both parents [1]. North American woodpeckers include the very large Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) [2], Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) [3], Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) [4], and the Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus rubber) [5].


1.         Sibley D: The Sibley guide to bird life and behavior. New York, NY, USA: Alfred A. Knopf; 2001.

2.         Bull EL, Jackson JA: Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2011.

3.         Jackson JA, Ouellet HR, Jackson BJ: Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2002.

4.         Jackson JA, Ouellet HR: Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2002.

5.         Walters EL, Miller EH, Lowther PE: Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2002.


Distribution maps provided below, unless otherwise stated, were obtained from Birds of North America Online, maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and all pictures provided below were obtained from Encyclopedia of Life
Pileated Woodpecker
Supplier: Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: DickDaniels (
Hairy Woodpecker
Supplier: Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: DickDaniels (
Downy Woodpecker
© Allison Carey
Supplier: Flickr: EOL Images
Photographer: Allison Carey
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Supplier: Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: Kevin Cole