Tail-feathers always 12, the outermost pair in the majority of the genera short and often completely concealed by the coverts, so that these two feathers are difficult to find. Bill generally strong and in many forms modified into a cutting weapon, the end of the upper mandible being vertical and chisel-shaped. With this weapon "Woodpeckers cut away the bark of trees to look for insects, and make holes in the trunks or branches for nests. Many species by tapping on trees make a noise that may be heard a considerable distance. The nostrils are basal; above them, in several genera, a ridge known as the nasal ridge commences, and runs, parallel to the culmen, to join or nearly to join the commissure. The tongue is excessively long, worm-like, and capable of great protrusion; it is supplied with viscid mucus from the large salivary glands, so that insects, their larvae and eggs adhere to it. The point of the tongue is horny and barbed. The hyoid cornua, which are of enormous length, slide round the skull, passing in a sheath from the side of the gullet round the occiput to the base of the upper mandible.
All Indian Picidae are insectivorous, a large proportion of them feeding mainly and some entirely on ants. All lay glossy white eggs, and all, with the exception of one genus, make holes in trees and lay their eggs in them, the eggs resting on the chips without any other lining to the hole. The exception is the genus Micropternus, which lays its eggs in ants' nests.
The Picidae are not found in Madagascar, Australia, or Polynesia, but range through all other temperate and tropical regions. They are divided into three subfamilies, thus distinguished:—
Shafts of tail-feathers stout and rigid………………………Picinae, p. 17.
Shafts of tail-feathers flexible. Tail (in Indian forms) less than f length of wing ; nostrils concealed by plumes………………………Picumninae, p. 75.
Shafts of tail-feathers flexible. Tail 3/4 wing or more; nostrils not concealed by plumes, but partly covered by a membrane………………………Iynginae, p. 78.
Woodpeckers are known as Kat-tokra, H., in Northern India, Lakhor-phor in the South ; Kat-barya at Mussooree; Katparwa in Oude; Lohar, Marathi; Manu-tolachi, Telugu ; Marram-tolashi, Tamul; Tatchan-kuruvi, Tam. in Ceylon; Koerella, Cingalese; Thit-touk, Burmese ; these names being applied to all kinds. The Lepchas of Sikhim, as Jerdon observes, alone appear to have names for different species.