Despite their distinctive habit of climbing up trees, not all feed in trees. Distributed around the world they range in size from the tiny piculets (only 8cm long) to the massive Imperial Woodpecker (55cm), both from South America; British species are somewhat intermediate!
All woodpeckers have a stout, relatively long bill and robust body designed for chiselling into wood. Woodpecker feet are well adapted to climbing trees, with two toes pointing forward and two back (one of which can also be bent sideways to improve grip) and a stiff tail to provide extra support. While not all species feed in trees, the Green Woodpecker, for instance feeds on ants from the ground, all nest in excavated holes in trees, some of which are re-used. The 'drumming' noise often associated with woodpeckers does not actually stem from these excavations (which can take two to four weeks), but rather are territorial advertisements.Great Spotted Woodpecker, which has even started visiting bird tables in the last ten years or so, and the Green Woodpecker, on which Professor Yaffle in the children's programme Bagpuss was loosely based.
The two commonest species of woodpecker found in Britain are the