Significance to humans

The brilliant red feathers on the head of many male woodpeckers have been sought by indigenous peoples in many areas of the world. In North America, the scalps and bills of ivory-billed woodpeckers were sought and traded far outside the range of the species to be used to adorn war pipes and ceremonial dress. Red-headed woodpecker feathers were similarly used by the Ojibway Indians of Canada. In California, scalps of woodpeckers became essentially the basis of a monetary system among indigenous peoples. Woodpecker tongues and other body parts have been used in folk medicine and woodpeckers have been eaten in many cultures. In Italy, however, the tapping of woodpeckers is considered unlucky, a belief perhaps handed down from the Romans. At the end of the nineteenth century, skins of rare species such as the ivory-billed and imperial woodpeckers had a high market value and were the subject of intense collecting pressure. In the late twentieth century the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker of the southeastern United States became a symbol of conflict between the forest industry and environmental action groups. Several species of woodpeckers have been eaten by local cultures, including flickers, pileated woodpeckers, and ivory-billed woodpeckers in North America. The latter two were both known to early settlers in North America as "Indian hens," perhaps a reference to their edibility. One early writer suggests that ivory-billed woodpecker tasted as good as "pintail duck."

Woodpeckers are very important components of forest ecosystems because of their role in providing nest and roost sites for many secondary cavity-nesting species, their control of forest insect pests, and to some extent dispersal of seeds. Woodpeckers are also blamed for considerable damage to buildings, some damage to crops (including sugar cane, cacao, corn, oranges, and other fruit), to commercially valuable trees, and sometimes to eggs of poultry. Often, however, the perceived damage is a perception only and the "services" provided by the birds far outweigh any real damage. Wood peckers have a lot of popular appeal and have contributed to human culture in such diverse ways as through the cartoon "Woody Woodpecker" (patterned after the pileated woodpecker), door-knockers shaped like woodpeckers, and toothpick dispensers that include a miniature woodpecker that picks up a toothpick for the user. In Brazil, muzzle-loading shotguns are called "woodpeckers."

1. Black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius); 2 Three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus); 3. Smoky-brown woodpecker (Veniliornis fumigatus); 4. Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus); 5. Gray-faced woodpecker (Picus canus); 6. Great slaty woodpecker (Mulleripicus pulverulentus); 7. Okinawa woodpecker (Sapheopipo noguchii); 8. Lesser flame-backed woodpecker (Dinopium benghalense); 9. Rufous woodpecker (Celeus brachyurus); 10. Ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis). (Illustration by Gillian Harris)

1. Yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius); 2. Guadeloupe woodpecker (Melanerpes herminieri); 3. Bennett's woodpecker (Campethera ben-nettii); 4. Red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis); 5. Olivaceous piculet (Picumnus olivaceus); 6. White-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos); 7. Red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus); 8. Northern wryneck (Jynx torquilla); 9. Rufous piculet (Sasia abnormis); 10. Gray woodpecker (Dendropicos goertae). (Illustration by Gillian Harris)

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