Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Abigail. Abigail Wonders, “Why Do Woodpeckers Peck Wood?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Abigail!

There’s nothing better than a hike through the woods on a crisp autumn morning. The crunch of leaves beneath your feet, the smell of fall flowers in the air, the sight of squirrels harvesting food for the winter—they all come together to make a perfect fall experience.

But wait—what’s that? Can you hear it? Of course you can hear it. It sounds like a hammer—no, a jackhammer. It’s so loud! But that’s no human-made noise. No, it’s all-natural! What are we hearing? The peck-peck-peck of a woodpecker, of course!

Unlike our friend the woodchuck, woodpeckers do, in fact, live up to their name. Their wood-pecking can be heard far and wide as they drill into the side of a tree or wooden building. But many of our Wonder Friends still have the same question: Why do woodpeckers peck wood?

In many cases, woodpeckers peck wood because they’re looking for food. These birds eat insects that live inside trees, so they’ll peck until they find a few juicy bugs for breakfast. Some woodpeckers also dine on other things found inside trees, such as sap. The sapsucker woodpecker even got its name from this practice.

Other times, woodpeckers peck wood to build their homes. They’ll build nests inside the trees, safe from the elements. Once a nest is built, woodpeckers will also peck to tell others that the area is theirs or to attract mates.

How fast do woodpeckers peck? Around 20 pecks per second. On average, they’ll peck 8,000-12,000 times per day! Doesn’t all that pecking cause a headache? Maybe for you, it does. But woodpeckers have special features that protect them from injuring themselves while pecking. 

It all starts with the beak. A woodpecker’s beak has two layers. The outer layer is hard like a shell, while the inner layer is soft and flexible. Behind the beak, a spongy bone absorbs much of the impact of pecking. And beyond that is fluid between a woodpecker’s skull and brain, as well as a bone wrapped in muscle that carries vibration to the back of the skull and out through the tongue. Yes, a woodpecker’s noggin is well-protected, indeed!

Of course, not all woodpeckers are the same. In fact, there are about 180 species of this bird! They’re most common in South America and Southeast Asia. However, woodpeckers can be found just about anywhere. They live everywhere but Australia, Ireland, northern Africa, and the polar regions.

Have you ever seen--or heard--a woodpecker? If you spend much time near wooded areas during fall or spring, you’re likely to. That’s when woodpeckers do most of their hunting and nest-building. If you’re walking along one day and hear a peck-peck-peck, there may be a woodpecker close by! If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse before they fly away.

Standards: NGSS.LS1.A, NGSS.LS1.C, NGSS.LS1.D, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.9, CCAR.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.W.3

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Dig out your scuba suit! Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day takes us deep into the sea.