Woodpeckers of Lassen Volcanic National Park

Hairy Woodpecker on tree
Hairy Woodpecker on tree

Paola Hinojosa

Pair of Red-breasted Sapsuckers creating sap wells on tree
Pair of Red-breasted Sapsuckers on tree creating sap wells

Paola Hinojosa

Lassen Volcanic National Park provides a unique habitat for woodpeckers to nest, breed, and forage. The white-headed woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, and northern flicker are year-round residents. Each woodpecker species has special adaptations for survival.

Depending on the species, the length of a woodpecker’s tongue can be up to a third of the bird’s total body length. The tongue of a woodpecker is so long it coils around the back of the bird’s skull. Tongue length and spongy bones support a woodpecker's brain against injury. While the basic anatomy is the same, woodpecker tongues vary among species. For instance, sapsuckers have brush-tipped tongues to lap tree sap into their mouths. Fun fact: In North America, the Northern Flicker has the longest tongue!

All woodpeckers have a strong chisel-shaped bill for drilling into wood. There are variations in bill shape among woodpecker species depending on foraging behavior. The Red-breasted sapsucker creates rows of wells and feed on sap and insects attracted to the sap. The sap wells are also beneficial for hummingbirds migrating north ahead of spring plants flowering. Researchers have observed Rufous hummingbirds follow Red-breasted sapsuckers to sap wells.

A woodpecker’s tail supports the bird’s weight at rest. The tail feathers curve and stiffen which flex when the tail presses against a tree. As a woodpecker climbs, the body leans in towards the trunk, while the legs push the body upwards. The bird then grips the tree with its feet as the body settles back to rest on the tail.
White-headed Woodpecker on burned tree
White-headed Woodpecker on burned tree

Paola Hinojosa

Lassen Volcanic National Park is everchanging. Lassen is continuously shaped by eruptions, erosion, and wildfires. Each event offers an opportunity for rejuvenation. Woodpeckers are generally associated with lush green forests. However, the role of a woodpecker in a burned area contributes to a diverse forest ecosystem. Inside burned trees hides an ecological symphony. Burned trees attract woodboring beetles. Beetles attract voracious insect foragers like woodpeckers. Standing dead trees, provide soft wood for woodpeckers to create cavities for nesting. These cavities offer a home for a secondary user like other birds and small mammals. Small but mighty, woodpeckers promote a healthy environment.

Last updated: January 26, 2024

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