Let’s Talk About Woodpecker Feet

8-6-2019 bI see downy woodpeckers on a daily basis. They seem to love my neighborhood and can be seen and heard pecking away on the trees around here all year round. I enjoy observing downy woodpeckers, but I confess I love seeing less-usual-around-here birds more, so the other day when I saw a pileated woodpecker on an old evergreen tree in my neighborhood, I was thrilled. I was able to watch it for a while as it worked the tree trunk over, diligently hunting for its dinner.

Woodpeckers have many special features to their anatomy, but I thought I would focus on their feet in my post today.

Woodpeckers have zygodactyl feet, which means they have two pairs of toes on each foot. One pair of toes faces forward. One pair faces backward. Woodpeckers are not the only birds with zygodactyl feet. Parrots are another example of birds with this type of toe arrangement.

Zygodactyl feet are great for birds who spend their time hopping up, down, and across tree trunks. The toe arrangement of this kind of foot is also good for clinging to bark while a woodpecker pecks away, looking for delicious insects to eat.8-6-2019 a

3 responses to “Let’s Talk About Woodpecker Feet”

  1. Hi, Bernice. Another very interesting posting. Watching woodpeckers, I always am amazed that they don’t simply fall off of the tree they are pecking. Obviously, their zygodactyl feet are a big part of the explanation. Evolution has given them feet that work for the type of activity they are so engaged in. Suppose our hoofs have similarly evolved to help us giraffes get around better. I often wonder who comes up with these terms – “zygodactyl” What about us giraffes being even-toed “ungulates” and being in the order “Artiodactyla” (where we are grouped with antelopes, cattle, goats, sheep, caribou, moose, hippos and pigs!). Just saying the terms has me tongue tied and feeling hungry. Need to go look for some acacia leaves.


    • Hi Dad! Thanks for the comment!

      Scientific terms are often mouthfuls, no doubt.

      I believe I am correct when I say that the English word zygodactyl comes from two Greek words. I think the first half of the word, zygo, comes from the Greek word for pair and that the dactyl part comes from the Greek word for finger. Put them together and voila! Pairs of fingers (or toes in this case). If someone out there has a correction to my etymologic breakdown, please comment below. I am not 100% sure I am correct even after looking this up.

      I love you, Dad! I hope you find a yummy snack!


  2. It’s so hard to get a look at woodpecker feet even if a woodpecker is staying still – their feet are so small and blend in with bark. It’s nice to see an illustration 🙂


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