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(Editor’s note: this is the first installment of a new column we will present to readers monthly, produced by members of the Arrowsmith Naturalists. Our thanks to the group.)
Our forested region presently supports a good variety of woodpeckers.
They range in size from the dimunitive 17cm Downie to the impressive 43cm Pileated.
The only larger woodpecker in North America, the Ivory-Billed is reportedly extinct, due to habitat destruction in the Southeast U.S.
Woodpeckers have always fascinated people. Remember “Woody Woodpecker?” Woody’s cartoon “laugh” with the staccato finale imitate one of the Pileated’s calls and that of drumming.
Drumming? Yes! Especially in spring, woodpeckers search out various resonant dead trees, hollow branches, or even man-made structures such as siding that will broadcast sound.
These strong-billed birds apply a series of rapid blows to these “drumming posts” which reverberate loudly sending the sound a good distance to announce the borders of that bird’s territory. The louder the sound, the more impressive—inviting mates and intimidating rivals.
If a drumming post happens to be on your house here’s a tip: Locate the spot the woodpecker is using and cover it temporarily with a piece of Styrofoam, thick layered cardboard, folded tarp or other sound deadening material. The woodpecker will usually move on to a new place. After a couple of weeks, the material can be removed.
As you listen in the forest you’ll notice that drumming is quite different from the quieter “taps” of a woodpecker digging into decaying wood in search of insects. When close to the prey he unrolls and inserts his long specialized barb-tipped saliva-sticky tongue to spear and pull them out.
Each year, a woodpecker pair excavates a new nest cavity. Mated pairs remain together for life and both share the work of raising their chicks and teaching them survival skills
The abandoned former woodpecker nest cavities are extremely important to countless other species such as violet-green swallows, bluebirds, owls, wood ducks, squirrels and others who depend on these cavities to raise their families.
As you enjoy our wonderful trails, see how many woodpecker feeding and nest cavity holes you can spot!
To learn more about woodpeckers and other local critters check out the local Arrowsmith Naturalists activities, and their contact information, at www.arrowsmithnats.org.