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image of a woodpecker
11/28/2022 5 minute read

Woodpecker Nesting Season

For most animals, the nesting season is a time to find a mate and have babies. But for woodpeckers, it's all about finding the perfect tree. Woodpeckers are unique among birds in their nesting habits. They don't build nests like other birds. Instead, they excavate holes in trees to create…

For most animals, the nesting season is a time to find a mate and have babies. But for woodpeckers, it’s all about finding the perfect tree. Woodpeckers are unique among birds in their nesting habits. They don’t build nests like other birds. Instead, they excavate holes in trees to create a nesting cavity.

The nesting season for woodpeckers begins in late winter and lasts through early summer. The male woodpecker will select a tree and start excavating a cavity. Once the cavity is complete, the female will move in and the pair will begin raising their young. Let’s get more details on their eggs, nests, and nesting habits!

a woodpecker and its chicks

What Season do Woodpeckers Lay Eggs?

The woodpecker nesting season generally peaks from April through May. This is the time when woodpeckers mate, build nests and lay eggs. The female woodpecker will build the nest, and the male will help defend it.

four woodpecker eggs in a nest

How Many Eggs Does a Woodpecker Lay?

The typical number of eggs a woodpecker will lay is 3-8, but this varies on species. Below are egg counts for some woodpecker species:

Pileated Woodpecker: 3-5 eggs

Downy Woodpecker: 3-8 eggs

Hairy Woodpecker: 3-6 eggs

Red-headed Woodpecker: 3-10 eggs

The eggs are small and white with brown spots. The incubation period is 12-16 days, and both parents will take turns sitting on the eggs to keep them warm. Once the chicks hatch, they are altricial, which means they are born helpless and need their parents to care for them. The chicks will fledge (learn to fly) at about 4-6 weeks old.

Most woodpeckers raise a single brood or family. Pileated woodpeckers and Downy woodpeckers are examples. But, a species called ‘The West Indian Woodpecker’ engages in polyandry. The female mates with two males and raises two different broods.

a woodpecker pecking

Where Do Woodpeckers Make Their Nests?

Woodpeckers peck a nest hole in tree cavities by pecking out a hole to use as their nests. But they will also utilize an old nest made by another bird, such as a crow or hawk. Dead trees or logs attract woodpeckers as it is easier to peck them. However, live trees aren’t ruled out too.

The depth of the nest cavity varies depending on the size of the woodpecker. These cavities usually situate 10-20 feet off the ground and are big enough for the woodpecker to fit. Inside, the nest contains wood chips and soft materials, such as feathers or moss.

Woodpecker Nesting Habit

If other birds and mammals only have females to care for their eggs or young, woodpeckers are different. Both parents help incubate the eggs and feed the chicks. They take turns incubating during the day. But female woodpeckers usually take charge at night while the male is out looking for food.

Some woodpeckers will store food in their nests for later use. This is especially useful when the female is incubating the eggs and cannot leave the nest. The male will bring her food to eat while she sits on the eggs.

a woodpecker in a nest hole

Do woodpeckers use the same nest every year?

Woodpeckers generally do not reuse their nesting cavity. But if a nest is still usable, some species will return to it and make a few repairs before using it again.

The red-headed woodpecker is an example. These species excavate on live branches, utility poles, and buildings and rarely nest on natural cavities. These woodpeckers use their cavities several years in a row as long as it’s usable.

Some woodpeckers don’t want to waste their time too. There are instances that they use pre-existing cavities dug by other birds or animals.

a young woodpecker in a nest hole

How Long Do Baby Woodpeckers Stay in the Nest?

The young woodpeckers will stay in the nest for 4-6 weeks until they are ready to leave and fend for themselves. During this time, both parents will continue to feed them.

Once they leave the nest, they will join a group of other young woodpeckers. These groups are called ‘flocks’ or ‘descent.’ The woodpeckers will stay in these flocks until they reach sexual maturity and are ready to mate. After that, the cycle continues- they will leave the flock to start their own family.

a woodpecker on a tree trunk

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Final Thoughts

Woodpeckers are peculiar birds because of how they make their nests. While others compile dead leaves and twigs, these birds drill tree trunks and other suitable cavities. This bird’s parenting is impressive too. Both male and female woodpeckers cooperate to nurture their young. Not just during the incubation but until their offspring afford independence.