The unmistakable “rat-a-tat-a-tat” can mean only one thing: A woodpecker is busy chiseling nearby. These wood-boring birds are designed for carpentry with their shock-absorbing heads, sharp bills, strong feet, and stiff tail feathers. Long tongues help them slurp insects out of the holes they drill.
According to the Museum’s Director of Collections Jean Woods, Ph.D., there are seven types of woodpeckers that make Delaware their home for all or part of the year. It can be tricky to tell some of them apart. For example, the Downy Woodpecker and the Hairy Woodpecker both have white bellies and almost identical black-and-white checkered and spotted patterns on their backs and heads. If you want to know which one is tapping in your trees, the secret is in the size of the bill. “The length of a Downy Woodpecker’s bill is about half the distance measured from its nostril to the back of its head,” Jean said. “With the Hairy Woodpecker, the bill is much longer than half.”
One thing that’s usually easy to figure out is whether the woodpecker is male or female. The males have the more impressive plumage, often with flaming red on the head.
Lucky bird watchers may have seen a woodpecker that caught their attention because of its scarlet crest and immense size compared to others in the Picidae family. That’s the Pileated Woodpecker, and it can grow to more than 19 inches long – the size of a crow. Pileated Woodpeckers dig rectangular holes in trees, which is good news for little birds that later use these as nesting spots. But look out below! The extensive excavations can cause small trees to break in half.
Here you can compare and contrast Delaware's woodpeckers: