The black woodpecker feeds entirely on insects and their larvae, which it finds at low levels in large trees. It will often feed on wood-boring insects, deep inside timber (2) (3) (5).
The characteristic deep excavations of the black woodpecker are used both for roosting and nesting purposes. The black woodpecker has a specially adapted neck containing very strong muscles, which allow it to endlessly hack away at tree bark. In order to position itself correctly, it has short, stumpy legs, as well as long, sharp claws and very stiff tail feathers (4).
The black woodpecker will work on these excavations for up to four weeks, depending on the tree. The woodpecker will more than likely choose a tree with a fungal disease, such as heart rot, although some will utilise a living, healthy tree. Once a hole has been made, the black woodpecker chips downwards through the trunk of the tree, creating a nesting chamber, the only lining being the woodchips created throughout the process. When the nest is ready, the female lays a single clutch of two to eight eggs. The breeding pair take it in turns to incubate the eggs, also sharing duties of feeding and brooding the chicks once they have hatched. The nestlings may fight their way to the entrance of the nest in order to be fed first. After 18 to 35 days the young black woodpecker will leave the nest, staying with the adults for another week (2) (4) (5) (9).
The black woodpecker’s excavations provide homes for many other species of bird and mammal, and is therefore considered to be a ‘keystone’ species in many of its habitats throughout its range. It not only provides habitats for other species, but also controls populations of wood-boring insects, helping to protect the trees (4) (9).