Latin name: Picus
Other names: Espec, Espech, Pivert

No spike can remain in a tree where a woodpecker nests

General Attributes

Spikes or anything else cannot remain attached to a tree where a woodpecker nests, but immediately fall out; for this reason the woodpecker is considered divine. It is named for Picus, son of Saturn, because it was used in auguries. The woodpecker can reopen its hole if it is plugged, through the use of a particular herb.


Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 20): Woodpeckers are used for taking auguries. Some climb straight up a tree, like a cat; others cling to the tree upside down. They can feel there is food under the bark by the sound it makes when they strike it. Woodpeckers are the only birds that raise their young in holes. A common belief has that when shepherds drive wedges into a woodpecker's hole, the birds use a type of grass to make them slip out. If a wedge or nail is driven into a tree where a woodpecker nests, when the bird perches in the tree the nail immediately comes out, no matter how hard it was driven in.

Aelianus [170-230 CE] (On the Characteristics of Animals, Book 1, chapter 45): The bird 'Woodpecker' derives its name from what it does. For it has a curved beak with which it pecks oak-trees, and deposits its young in them as in a nest; and it has no need at all of dry twigs woven together or of any building. Now if one inserts a stone and blocks up the entrance for the aforesaid bird, it guesses that there is a plot afoot, fetches some herb that is obnoxious to the stone, and places it against the stone. The latter in disgust and unable to endure the smell springs out, and once again the bird's caverned home lies open to it. - [Scholfield translation]

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:47): The woodpecker (picus) is named from the son of Saturn, Picus, because woodpeckers were used in auguries. That this bird has some divine property is shown by the way nails or anything else attached to a tree where a woodpecker nests will immediately fall out.