Physical characteristics

Piciformes are small to medium-sized birds of forests and woodlands. In addition to having distinctive "X"-shaped feet, members of this group share other skeletal features: they have 14 cervical vertebrae; all of the thoracic vertebrae are unattached; the sternum has four (two pairs of) notches; and they have five complete ribs.

Piciformes share other common features in their musculature, digestive system, and plumage. For example, many members of this group have stout, sturdy beaks, which they use for gouging wood or other substrates to obtain food. Also, in most species the adult birds lack down feathers (jacamars are an exception to this pattern). And though plumage patterns and colors are quite varied for the group as a whole, combinations of black and white with accents of red and yellow are common, and males and females of a species often look alike. Woodpeckers (one of three groups in the family Picidae) are unusual in this family and indeed among all birds in having extra-stiff tail feathers, which they use to brace their bodies against tree trunks while climbing vertically or hammering with their beaks. Barbets do use their tails as a brace, but only while excavating the nest cavity.

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