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Woodpeckers Bark Sloughing

woodpecker bark peeling IMG_0567Several species of woodpeckers search for wood-boring beetle larvae by removing the bark from a tree (in addition to drilling holes). This is referred to as bark sloughing. Some birds, such as nuthatches, remove only scales of bark, not the whole layer like woodpeckers, and this is referred to as scaling. After finding or creating an opening, a woodpecker repeatedly slips its pointed beak under loose bark, prying it off of the tree. It then uses its long, barb-tipped tongue to capture the exposed insects. Different woodpecker species tend to feed on either trunks or branches, and at different heights. Initially sloughing can resemble the work of porcupines, but close examination can reveal the marks of a beak, which are perpendicular to the trunk or limb, rather than the grooves left by a beaver’s incisors.

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7 responses

  1. Fascinating post! Which species usually engage in bark sloughing?

    December 5, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    • According to Mark Elbroch, many different species of woodpeckers do this, including hairy and downy (as well as Clark’s Nutcrackers). Certain species feed at certain heights of the tree trunk, as well — three-toed wood woodpeckers tend to feed low on dead conifer trunks, while black-backed woodpeckers have been observed removing all the bark along standing trunks but leaving the bark along the branches. If you aren’t familiar with his BIRD TRACKS & SIGN book, it has a wealth of information.

      December 5, 2014 at 5:16 pm

  2. Liza McA

    Yes – Very interesting! I would also like to know whether one can identify the type of woodpecker by the markings.

    December 5, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    • Great question. It may be possible, but I am not familiar enough with this phenomenon to be able to determine which species is responsible without seeing the bird as well.

      December 5, 2014 at 5:18 pm

  3. But don’t trees die if they are debarked all the way around the trunk? Oh, dear,I hate to imagine woodpeckers KILLING these trees…

    December 5, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    • So sorry. I forgot to mention that this is done on DEAD trees!

      December 5, 2014 at 5:11 pm

  4. Jean Harrison

    Oh good. I had the same concern as Sheila. Also, did you mean “porcupines’ incisors”?

    December 7, 2014 at 12:47 am

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