The woodpecker does not normally appear in the Physiologus. The usual attributes of the woopecker (derived from Pliny the Elder) are that it nests in holes it cuts into trees, and if a nail is driven into a tree where a woodpecker is, the nail will immediately fall out. The Epiphanius refers only to the woodpecker's habit of cutting holes in trees. The woodpecker, it says, is a bird of changing colors, just as the devil is a shape-changer. The woodpecker enters a forest and taps on a tree, listening to see if it is hollow or decayed; if it is, the bird cuts a hole in the tree and enters it; if the tree is solid the bird immediately abandons it and looks for another one. In the interpretation the woodpecker is a figure of the devil, who comes near to men and "taps" on their hearts; if the heart is infirm (sinful) the devil enters and builds his nest there, but if the heart is solid the devil flees to try someone else.

The woodpecker in the van der Borcht copperplate engraving below is simply cutting a hole in a tree.

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The woodcut from the Rome, 1577 edition is unavailable.

Properties of the Woodpecker