Birds that excavate their own cavities for breeding are traditionally considered to suffer little from nest predation. We reviewed the literature for nest predation rates, nest success, nest predator species and nest defence in European and North American woodpeckers. Predation rate varied from zero to 0.35 (median 0.13, n = 33 populations), while nest success varied from 0.42 to 1.00 (median 0.80, n = 84). Daily nest predation rate increased, while daily nest survival rate did not change with species body weight. This suggests a role of cavity entrance size in passive nest defence and differential causes of nest failure between small and large species. Twenty three predator species preyed upon woodpecker nests. Woodpeckers defended their nests by attacking the predators, blocking the cavity entrance, and by the selection of safe habitat/cavity and timing of breeding. We conclude by discussing gaps in the literature regarding woodpecker nest predation. © Finnish Zoological and Botanical Publishing Board 2009.