Behavior

Most piciform birds are not particularly social. Breeding is usually solitary, not colonial. In many species, however, male and female maintain the pair-bond and defend a shared territory year-round; this behavior is especially common in woodpeckers, puffbirds, and barbets. Some species of toucans do form small, loose flocks when foraging, and barbets and honeyguides may congregate temporarily where food is plentiful.

Though they are good climbers, many species of piciform birds are described as "weak" flyers. (Acrobatic honeyguides are one noteworthy exception.) Most members of this taxon do not migrate, although a few species (notably the yellow-bellied sapsucker [Sphyrapicus varius]) migrate long distances between breeding and wintering grounds.

Two behaviors exhibited by some birds in this taxon are extremely unusual in the avian world. One is drumming; woodpeckers routinely communicate in this distinctive way, hammering rhythmically, in species-specific patterns, on resonating structures such as hollow trees. A few species of barbet also communicate by drumming. Another is guiding, the behavior for which the honeyguides are named. Two hon-eyguide species in Africa "guide" other animals—including honey-badgers, baboons, and humans—to bees' nests. The birds alert their foraging partners to the presence of a honey-loaded hive with their calls and make short flights to indicate the direction of travel. If one of these larger animals does locate and break open the hive, the birds dart in to feast on beeswax.

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