Woodpecker Tongue: How Long Is It, Why Is It So Important, And More!

Anusuya Mukherjee
Oct 11, 2023 By Anusuya Mukherjee
Originally Published on Jan 12, 2022
An interesting fact about a woodpecker tongue is when this bird sleeps, the tongue wraps around the skull of the bird, protecting it from harm.

Woodpeckers are birds that we hear first before we see them.

Species of woodpeckers are known for their habit of pecking wood for long hours, in search of insects. The red-bellied woodpecker is one of the most well-known species of woodpeckers.

Woodpeckers are sapsuckers and they have an omnivorous diet. Woodpeckers look for insects, sap, and larvae in trees. They also eat ants. Different species of woodpeckers have different uses for their beaks.

A woodpecker's beak is very long and its tongue is even longer! All woodpeckers have long tongues which help them in many different ways. Since these birds have to often look inside holes in order to capture insects larvae or ants, their long tongues helps them find insects in the bark.

This bird's anatomy is also very interesting since a woodpecker has a very small mouth. It is surprising then that a woodpecker has such a long tongue because its mouth is so small!

This bird has a sticky tongue which is supported by a hyoid, which is a kind of bone. The hyoid is under the lower beak and the jaw. This feature helps a woodpecker's tongue to fit inside its small mouth.

It also helps this bird to breathe, swallow, and wrap its tongue around its head to protect itself. Over time this bird has undergone some natural adaptations in order to enhance its way of hunting. These adaptations have modified this bird's joints, further helping cartilage to do its work smoothly.

Woodpecker tongues are almost one third of their body size. It is absolutely incredible how their tongues are almost 3.9 in (10 cm).

If you enjoyed reading this article, why not find out why woodpeckers peck wood and what a woodpecker symbolizes here on Kidadl?

How long is a woodpecker's tongue?

The tongue of a woodpecker is one-third of the size of its body. A woodpecker's tongue is supported by bones and muscles and often helps the bird look around for food better.

Over time, they have undergone many adaptations. Initially, this bird's upper beak or bill was bigger than its lower beak. The same adaptation and evolution can be seen in this bird's tongue.

A bone called the hyoid supports the tongue and its functions. Woodpecker tongues are so long that they can wrap around their skulls. These birds wrap their tongues around their skulls when they are in the resting position.

However, a woodpecker's tongue also helps this bird in many other ways too. It helps this bird to find food from on the tip of branches. These sapsuckers absorb larvae and sap through their sticky tongues.

There is one woodpecker species that has the longest tongue when compared to other species. The northern flicker has the longest tongue. A northern flicker has a tongue that is much longer in length compared to other species of woodpeckers.

Which woodpecker has the longest tongue?

Woodpeckers are known for constantly pecking on tree bark. However, over the years these birds have undergone an adaptation that helps their skulls from getting damaged.

Their tail feathers and their cartilage bone, which is called the hyoid, along with their unique feet that help them grasp onto tree branches are just a few of the gifts they got from nature. The tongue of a woodpecker is also one such adaptation.

Almost all woodpeckers have long tongues, however, northern flicker woodpeckers have the longest tongues compared to all other woodpecker species that we see today. People can help these different woodpecker species by having a backyard feeder in their gardens.

It's important to know that a woodpecker has an omnivorous diet. These birds don't completely rely on seeds, so so you can also leave out fruit, nectar, suet and nuts for them to eat.

Since a woodpecker's mouth is too small for a tongue this long to rest, over time this bird has learned to wrap it around its head.

Does a woodpecker's tongue protect its brain?

A woodpecker taps with great speed into trees and this can injure a bird's brain easily. However, since these birds have long tongues that are supported by hyoid apparatus, this saves them from a head or brain injury caused by constant pecking.

A woodpecker's tongue gets wrapped around its skull, protecting the head and the brain from any injury. The tongue is supported by bone and muscles, and the hyoid apparatus supports the tongue.

When the tongue wraps around the head, it is supported by the muscles in the mouth. A woodpecker's tongue acts like a seat belt when it's pecking on a tree.

Their tongues also help in finding insects, sap, and other food items because they are so long. Long pecking hours, which are enough to give an adult human a headache, do not cause harm to a woodpecker.

This is because of its long tongue that protects its brain. Wrapping the tongue around its skull is one of the many adaptions this bird has undergone to protect itself from injury.

What does a woodpecker's tongue look like?

Woodpeckers have very long tongues, which are almost one-third of their body size. Their tongues are also supported by specific bones which make it easier for woodpeckers to function with such long tongues.

Woodpeckers have very small mouths, which makes it even more difficult for these birds to keep their tongues inside of their mouths when resting. Their tongues when in resting position, fall back and wrap their skulls.

This is very helpful for these birds since it also helps when pecking trees for long hours.. Their long tongues act like seat belts when they are pecking on trees. Their tongues protect them from possible skull or head damage that can happen during pecking on wood.

The tip of their tongues have barbs that are feather-like in texture.

These barbs help a woodpecker capture prey easily. Like other birds, woodpeckers have also evolved, adapting and enhancing certain body parts to help them survive in the wild.

The position of their tongues when resting helps them from any future skull injuries. Since woodpeckers often look for insects and larvae in tree bark, their small tongues with a sticky texture makes it easier for them to catch ant larvae.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked learning about woodpecker tongues then why not take a look at what do woodpeckers eat, or woodpecker facts.

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Written by Anusuya Mukherjee

Bachelor of Arts and Law specializing in Political Science and Intellectual Property Rights

Anusuya Mukherjee picture

Anusuya MukherjeeBachelor of Arts and Law specializing in Political Science and Intellectual Property Rights

With a wealth of international experience spanning Europe, Africa, North America, and the Middle East, Anusuya brings a unique perspective to her work as a Content Assistant and Content Updating Coordinator. She holds a law degree from India and has practiced law in India and Kuwait. Anusuya is a fan of rap music and enjoys a good cup of coffee in her free time. Currently, she is working on her novel, "Mr. Ivory Merchant".

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