What do Woodpeckers Eat?

If you’re lucky enough to hear the drumming sound of a woodpecker’s beak against a tree trunk, you might wonder what they’re up to.

Whilst they use their amazingly strong bills to hollow out nesting spots to breed and raise a family, they are also on the lookout for food.

Would you like to know exactly what they are hunting for, or if there’s anything you can put on your bird table? I thought they solely eat insects, but I was wrong.

Knowing what woodpeckers eat can help you to attract these beautiful creatures to your garden.

There are 3 varieties of woodpecker to be found in the British Isles; greater spotted, lesser spotted, and green.

They mostly inhabit woodlands of England, Wales, and Southern regions of Scotland.

In more recent years they have become savvier and will venture into gardens on the lookout for food to top up their diet of insects and grubs.

This occurs more in the colder months when live food isn’t as plentiful.

Their preferences vary among the breeds, berries, nuts, and suet are amongst some of their favourites.

What do Green Woodpeckers Eat?

The European Green Woodpecker

This is the largest of the woodpeckers native to the UK and easily recognisable because he’s green!

He has a yellow underbelly and a red cap, males also have a little red moustache. He is a ground feeder, his beak is designed to hollow out nesting spaces, not to tunnel for food.

Ants, ants, and more ants..

You are likely to see green woodpeckers down on the lawn on the hunt for ants. They aren’t too picky either, they will eat ant eggs, larvae, and adults.

In winter they will eat other small invertebrates when the ants are harder to come by.

Pine seeds.

These are the seeds found inside pine cones. The woodpecker uses his beak and barbed tongue to extract them from fallen pine cones. They are very rich in nutrients and so great food for their well-being.


If it is cold and there are no ants available, the green woodpecker may be tempted by growing apples.

It is really difficult to encourage them into your garden unless you have a supply of ants.

What Do Greater Spotted Woodpeckers Eat?

The Greater Spotted Woodpecker

This is the middle-sized woodpecker and he is much easier to please. He nests and feeds in trees, preferably dead or dying ones where the bark is softer.


A beetle whose larvae bores into timber causing untold damage. The woodpecker uses his robust beak to reach in and dig them out. His tongue can extend an extra 4cm beyond the tip of his beak to help catch the more awkward ones.

Bark lice

Aphid sized soft-bellied grubs that are packed with nutrients.

In winter, when its harder to find insects, they will venture more into gardens to find berries and nuts.

I use a variety of things to tempt them right up to my feeding station and find they help themselves from the table and happily eat from the hanging feeders.


Greater spotted woodpeckers have a particular fondness for fats, whether they be in blocks, balls, or pellets. They are a high-energy food that the birds can easily digest.


High in fat and calories

Sunflower seeds

They are a great source of nutrients and are oily to maintain the condition of feathers

Tree sap

Not only a nice sugary treat but it also quenches the woodpecker’s thirst.


If there are no grubs to be found, a hungry woodpecker will peck into an apple on the lookout for insects.

What do Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers Eat?

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (enjoying a bird feeder!)

These are the smallest variety but share a similar diet to their greater spotted counterparts.

Insects and wood-boring larvae

Their diet consists mostly of these. Any small invertebrate with a soft belly that inhabits trees.


Occasionally they will eat a spider if there is nothing else to be had

Lesser-spotted woodpeckers aren’t common visitors to the bird table but when they do, they have 2 particular favourites.

Sunflower hearts

The whiteish interior of a sunflower seed that is packed with calories and nutrition. These are important for the bird to store as energy for the hard winter months.

Importantly, as they already have the hard outer shell removed, the woodpecker doesn’t waste valuable stored energy trying to crack them.


Easy to eat and very high-energy food.

And finally,

Now that you know what woodpeckers like to eat, I wish you every success in trying to attract them to your garden.

Who knows, you may be lucky enough to get a breeding couple nest in your trees.

2 thoughts on “What do Woodpeckers Eat?”

  1. This morning a lesser spotted woodpecker attacked my bird box where a family of blue tits are nesting. Was it trying to eat the baby birds inside or was it just looking for insects?


Leave a comment

Fatbirder's Top 1000 Birding Websites