Behavior And Reproduction

Woodpeckers and relatives are not considered very social birds, except for a few species. They are rarely seen on the ground or flying in the air, but are mostly found searching for food, eating captured prey, nesting, raising young, and roosting in trees. Most piciform birds do not migrate, move seasonally, but remain in their home range throughout the year. However, a few species migrate many miles between their breeding and wintering areas. A male-female pair will breed alone, but will maintain their bond—especially for woodpeckers, puffbirds, and barbets—throughout the year as they protect their territory. Some species of toucans form small flocks while foraging for food, and honeyguides and barbets come together at times when there is plenty of food available.

Piciforms are good climbers but weak flyers, except for honeyguides who are strong, acrobatic birds. Woodpeckers and relatives communicate in many different ways. They ruffle their crown feathers, spread their wings, sway the head, hop and dance about, and tap and drum their bill on tree trunks and branches.

Piciforms have two unique and very unusual behaviors that are unknown anywhere else in the bird community. First, woodpeckers and a few species of barbets communicate to one another by "drumming" (that is, tapping or hammering) rhythmically on hollow trees or other such structures in particular ways (depending on the species). Second, honeyguides, as their name says, "guide" animals such as honey badgers, baboons, and humans to bees' nests with the use of calls and short flights to the nests. When one of these animals is drawn to a beehive and breaks it open, the honeyguides help themselves to the beeswax.

Woodpeckers and their relatives are territorial, living in individual, pair, or family territories. They often defend a territory even from their own species. They display several courtship activities; among them, drumming and tapping on trees in specific patterns, flights into the air, and expressive calls to attract a mate. In fact, the black woodpecker taps about forty-three times within a two and a half-second period. They nest (and roost) in cavities, with some families laying their eggs in the nests of other hole-nesting species such as woodpeckers and barbets. The type of cavity used varies among the six families. Some species of jacamars and puffbirds dig out decayed trees among former termite nests, while other species dig burrows in soil, often along riverbanks. Barbets and woodpeckers use their strong, sharp beaks to hammer out nest cavities in rotting trees. Other birds often take over such nests, making woodpeckers and their relatives helpful to such birds. The large species of toucans use natural holes in trees, while the smaller species often drive out woodpeckers from newly dug holes, and then enlarge the holes to suit their needs. They will reuse the nests for many years.

Almost all woodpeckers and their relatives lay white eggs. During the incubation period, the mating pair will nest at intervals of thirty to 150 minutes. The nestling period is eighteen to thirty-five days. The whole family breaks up from one to eight weeks after the young leaves the nest.

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