Woodpeckers are birds that bang their beaks on dead trees for a couple of reasons. One, they are looking for insects hidden inside dead wood. Two, they are trying to make a lot of noise to attract a mate. Preschoolers never need a reason to make noise, but during this lesson, they will make a little noise and learn about woodpeckers.
What Do Woodpeckers Look Like?
Introduce your lesson on woodpeckers by showing the children pictures of some local woodpeckers. If you don’t know which birds live in your area, look online for your state’s department of wildlife where you should find a list of animals. Limit yourself to three woodpeckers, so you don’t overwhelm your preschoolers.
Next, show some pictures of other black and white birds (most woodpeckers are black and white; males have a spot of red at the back of their heads). If you glue pictures you print from online onto index cards, then you have a set of flashcards. Point out to the children that woodpeckers have long, thin beaks.
Gather up the pictures of woodpeckers and the other birds and shuffle the cards. Tell your preschoolers to tap their index finger on the floor (or their forehead) when you show them a picture of a woodpecker. For where I live in New England, I included downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, and flickers (a woodpecker) and I mixed in black-capped chickadees, starlings, juncos, and tufted titmice as my non-woodpecker birds.
Pretend to Be a Woodpecker
One of the reason woodpeckers bang against dead trees is to look for the insects living inside. Woodpeckers have extra thick skulls and tongues that are so long that they wrap around the animal’s brain just to fit (no, the woodpecker’s tongue doesn’t touch … or taste … its own brain).
Mix up a batch of no-cook play dough: combine two cups of flour, one cup of salt, and one cup of water and mix until blended. Divide into pieces for each child. Add five or so brightly-colored pony beads to each piece of clay and blend it into the piece.
Give each child a piece of the clay and a wood skewer and encourage the kids to use the skewer to poke through the clay in search of the bead bugs. (If you can find small plastic bugs, you could use them as an alternative to the beads.)
What Makes the Loudest Tapping Noise?
Another reason that woodpeckers bang their beaks against dead trees is because the sound that resonates from the hollow tree. In this way, males can declare their territory and find a mate.
Give kids wood clothespins and have them move through the room tapping with the clothespins, discovering what objects make the loudest noise.
Preschool Craft for Woodpeckers
Finish your preschool lesson on woodpeckers with a simple craft. Find a coloring page picture of a woodpecker and shrink the size to approximately four inches tall. Give kids a paper towel tube to draw brown tree bark lines over. Have them color the woodpecker and then you will cut it out. Tape the woodpecker to the tree. Remember, no leaves, as woodpeckers like dead trees and branches.
Preschoolers can learn about woodpeckers with a few hands-on activities that teach children why woodpeckers drum on dead trees. (Woodpeckers often drum on the sides of houses for the loud noise produced, not for bugs.)
Learn more about the animals of the forest with these preschool lesson plans on Crows and Ravens, Black Bears, and Porcupines.
Photo by Susan Caplan McCarthy