Woodpecker Symbolism: What Do They Represent? (9 Signs & Interpretations)


Woodpeckers are common all throughout North America. There are 23 native species, so it’s no surprise that they are part of our cultural folklore and mythology.

There are woodpeckers throughout the rest of the world as well. Many cultures see the woodpecker as a symbol, though it has different meanings for each one.

Woodpeckers are most often a positive symbol in many cultures.

They can mean that good luck is coming, that crops will do well, or a source of power during war. They also symbolize kindness and protection. However, in some cultures the woodpecker also predicts misfortune.

Read on to find out what seeing a woodpecker could mean for you.

1. Woodpeckers Predict Bad Weather And Storms

In Welsh mythology, the woodpecker predicts coming storms. Another name for them in Welsh is “Caseg y drycin” which means “storm mare.”

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There are also traditional Welsh poems about the woodpecker’s associations with storms. They focus on the cry of the woodpecker, rather than its appearance. The call of a woodpecker means bad weather is on its way.

2. Woodpeckers Represent Fortune Telling

For Romans, birds were an important part of augury, or fortune telling. One of the most important was the woodpecker, which was a favorite of one of the Roman minor gods, Picus.

In fact, “Picus” is now the Latin name for a woodpecker genus.

In Greece, the woodpecker is a bird of omen because of Zeus. A group of men snuck into the birthplace of Zeus and saw his blood there.

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Since it was wrong to kill them in a sacred place, Zeus turned them into birds instead. One of the birds was, of course, a woodpecker.

The Greeks believed that seeing the blood of Zeus made the woodpecker a better omen than other birds.

3. They Symbolize A God Of Agriculture

Predictions weren’t the only thing for which Picus was famous. He was also an agricultural god with ties to fertilizing soil.

In mythology, Circe transformed Picus into a woodpecker as revenge for denying her. So, for Romans, the woodpecker became the symbol for Picus, who in turn was a symbol of agriculture.

4. Woodpeckers Are Good Omens For Woodworking

Carpentry and woodworking seem like perfect fits for woodpecker symbolism. After all, their name comes from their pecking and drilling into wood.

But this association goes beyond just their names and their wood-drumming habits.

In Greek mythology, the god Hephaestus was a master of fire and creation. He was in charge of making physical objects like weapons and armor. He also once gave an axe to a carpenter to help him with his woodwork.

After a series of misfortunes, Zeus turned the carpenter into a woodpecker out of pity. Now the woodpecker had ties to both compassion and Hephaestus. So, it became a good omen for carpenters.

5. They Are A Sign Of A Good Hunt

Another Greek tale of transformation involves punishment as well as pity. Zeus ordered the god Hermes to punish a violent family that hunted and ate other people.

They were the descendants of Ares, however, and he intervened. Together with Hermes, he turned the family into birds instead of hurting them. Most became harmful birds with negative meanings.

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But the two gods did take pity on a servant who had only followed the orders of her masters. She begged them to turn her into a bird that wasn’t harmful to mankind.

Hearing her prayer, the two gods turned her into a woodpecker. The Greeks then saw the bird as the one positive sign of the story. They took it as a sign for successful hunting.

6. Woodpeckers Are Symbols Of Intimidation

The woodpecker is a symbol for several Native American cultures.

For instance, the Cherokee believe the woodpecker gives strength against enemies. They refer to them as “dalala,” an interpretation of the calls they make.

The Cherokee and some Plains tribes used the woodpecker as powerful symbols of war. The red-headed woodpecker in particular was very significant to the Cherokee for causing fear in their enemies.

7. Woodpeckers Represent Protection

Another Native American group that values the woodpecker is the Pawnee. They believe the woodpecker is the protector of the whole human race.

In their mythos, the woodpecker and turkey had a competition for this title. The turkey almost won because of how many offspring it could produce.

In the end, though, the woodpecker took the title due to the nature of its nests.

Even though they didn’t reproduce as much as turkey, woodpeckers were more stable. This is because they hid their nests deep in their trees where they were safe.

8. They Can Be Signs Of Misfortune

Not every interpretation of the woodpecker is good. In some cultures, such as the Creek tribes of the south, it’s a symbol of rain, danger, or even death.

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In particular, they view the ivory-billed and pileated woodpeckers as omens of various misfortunes.

9. Woodpeckers Are Symbols Of Kindness

Rebirth plays an important role in Buddhism. The Buddha lived many different lives, being reborn in different forms over many years.

For one cycle, the Buddha was born as a woodpecker. In this form, he helped a choking lion dislodge a bone from its throat.

By doing so, the Buddha showed deep kindness, and so the woodpecker is now a symbol of kind acts.

To Conclude

Even though the woodpecker sometimes means something bad is on the way, it’s usually a sign of good. Many cultures find the woodpecker to be inspiring. They believe it symbolizes kindness and good fortune in all kinds of situations.

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Want more birds in your backyard? Get simple tips on attracting feathered friends and maximizing your bird feeding setup. Our free cheat sheet has got you covered!
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James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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