The woodpecker is a familiar sight and sound in many places around the world, with the exception of Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Madagascar, and the poles. It has a strong, straight beak and a sticky tongue for finding and extracting insects from tree trunks and branches. Interestingly, the pecking causes the bird's skull to heat up, which is why they do it in bursts with cool-down breaks in between. They can be noisy little buggers, especially if they decide to start drumming on your chimney or rainspouts.
The birds also figure prominently in religion and mythology. They are considered lucky by many western Native Americans, and bring happiness and friendship. Europeans thought the birds were harbingers of changes in the weather. The Babylonians associated them with fertility. In Greek mythology, the woodpecker was a bird of prophecy and magical powers and was sacred to Zeus and Ares. In Roman mythology, it was named Picus and was widely worshiped in ancient Italy. The early Christians weren't huge fans, however, and identified woodpeckers with the devil.
Thanks to the red-headed trouble-maker named Woody Woodpecker, the bird has been a part of American popular culture since 1940. In this guise, Woody embodies the trickster--the cunning and/or foolish rule-breaker.
For any of you unfamiliar with Woody's iconic laugh, here it is (apologies in advance):