Most woodpeckers spend their entire lives in trees, spiraling up the trunks in search of insects; only the few ground-feeding forms are capable of perching on horizontal branches, as passerine birds do. Most woodpeckers eat insects, but some (especially Melanerpes species) feed on fruits and berries, and sapsuckers regularly feed on sap from certain trees in some seasons. In spring the loud calls of woodpeckers, often augmented by drumming on hollow wood or occasionally on metal, are the sounds of males holding territories; at other seasons woodpeckers are usually silent. Most are not social, tending rather to be solitary or to travel in pairs.

The acorn woodpecker (M. formicivorus) is about 20 cm (8 inches) long and is found from the deciduous woodlands of western North America south to Colombia. It depends on acorns for winter food, storing a supply in holes it drills in the bark of trees. The red-headed woodpecker (M. erythrocephalus) is roughly the same size (19–23 cm [7.5–9 inches]) as the acorn woodpecker, but it is sparsely distributed in open woodlands, farmland, and orchards of temperate North America east of the Rocky Mountains.

Well-known species of Dendrocopos include the downy woodpecker (D. pubescens), only about 15 cm (6 inches) long and inhabiting the woodlands and gardens of temperate North America; the great spotted woodpecker (D. major), about 23 cm (9 inches) long and found from the forests and gardens of western temperate Eurasia south to North Africa; and the hairy woodpecker (D. villosus), which is 20–25 cm (8–9.8 inches) long and found in temperate North America.

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