Woodpeckers-Feb. 2002

A Drum Roll at Dawn

If you hear a drumming noise at dawn, or see a bird in undulating flight, or perhaps there are wood chips on the ground near the base of a tree — all these signal the presence of a woodpecker. These master carpenters can be heard and seen all year long, but my favorite time for watching them is in winter. They seem curious of my presence and don’t mind being watched during the wintry months.

Woodpeckers have been around for a long time. Their fossil remains date back 25 million years to the Miocene era. There are 45 species in the United States and over 200 worldwide. The woodpecker family is the, Picidae, and have a very unique niche to fill in the food chain.

Everyone notices the woodpecker’s large, strong head, but have you ever wondered about its tongue? Woodpeckers that eat insects have a tongue like a fishing lure. There are barbed hooks along the sides that hook into the insect and a glue-like saliva finishes the job. The tongue is attached to bones and elastic-like tissue stored in the woodpecker’s head. When the tongue is needed to get at insects the whole system slides forward and the tongue shoots out. Fully extended, a woodpecker’s tongue can reach up to five times farther than its beak.

Woodpeckers have a special “hanging on” gear. The woodpecker has two toes pointed forward and two backward. (Zygodactyl feet) The back toes, plus its sharp, curved claws, give it a good grip. For extra safety, the bird has stiff tail feathers to help prop itself up.

There are several woodpecker residents in Bird Park. The common Flicker (yellow shafted phase) is present in spring, summer and fall. The Downy woodpeckers are present year round (approx. 6 inches in length with an 11 inch wingspan). The Hairy woodpeckers are residents in spring and summer, while the Red bellied woodpeckers are here year round (approx. 9 inches in length with a 17 inch. wingspan). In the spring, after its southern escapade, the elusive Yellow Bellied Sapsucker can be seen. But my favorite resident of the park arrived about two years ago, the Pileated woodpecker, the largest of all the Picidae and it is present year round (17 inches in length and up to a 27 inch wingspan.)

When you’re out walking and don’t see any birds, stop and listen and you may hear a woodpecker’s laugh. Did you know that a woodpecker uses its sense of hearing to find food? They listen with their ear close to the trunk of a dead tree and when they hear ants, beetles or other insects chewing or crawling inside, they go to work. So, our tapping friends keep insects under control, warn homeowners of insect invasion, and provide nesting spaces for owls and other creature with the cavities they leave behind. Most of the males have a noticeable red pattern on their head, and by the way, since Valentine’s Day was just here, woodpeckers are the originators of love pats. In spring they will tap on any surface to create the loudest sound to attract the females.

Have fun following the bird beats with a different drum.

A Drum Roll at Dawn

If you hear a drumming noise at dawn, or see a bird in undulating flight, or perhaps there are wood chips on the ground near the base of a tree — all these signal the presence of a woodpecker. These master carpenters can be heard and seen all year long, but my favorite time for watching them is in winter. They seem curious of my presence and don’t mind being watched during the wintry months.

Woodpeckers have been around for a long time. Their fossil remains date back 25 million years to the Miocene era. There are 45 species in the United States and over 200 worldwide. The woodpecker family is the, Picidae, and have a very unique niche to fill in the food chain.

Everyone notices the woodpecker’s large, strong head, but have you ever wondered about its tongue? Woodpeckers that eat insects have a tongue like a fishing lure. There are barbed hooks along the sides that hook into the insect and a glue-like saliva finishes the job. The tongue is attached to bones and elastic-like tissue stored in the woodpecker’s head. When the tongue is needed to get at insects the whole system slides forward and the tongue shoots out. Fully extended, a woodpecker’s tongue can reach up to five times farther than its beak.

Woodpeckers have a special “hanging on” gear. The woodpecker has two toes pointed forward and two backward. (Zygodactyl feet) The back toes, plus its sharp, curved claws, give it a good grip. For extra safety, the bird has stiff tail feathers to help prop itself up.

There are several woodpecker residents in Bird Park. The common Flicker (yellow shafted phase) is present in spring, summer and fall. The Downy woodpeckers are present year round (approx. 6 inches in length with an 11 inch wingspan). The Hairy woodpeckers are residents in spring and summer, while the Red bellied woodpeckers are here year round (approx. 9 inches in length with a 17 inch. wingspan). In the spring, after its southern escapade, the elusive Yellow Bellied Sapsucker can be seen. But my favorite resident of the park arrived about two years ago, the Pileated woodpecker, the largest of all the Picidae and it is present year round (17 inches in length and up to a 27 inch wingspan.)

When you’re out walking and don’t see any birds, stop and listen and you may hear a woodpecker’s laugh. Did you know that a woodpecker uses its sense of hearing to find food? They listen with their ear close to the trunk of a dead tree and when they hear ants, beetles or other insects chewing or crawling inside, they go to work. So, our tapping friends keep insects under control, warn homeowners of insect invasion, and provide nesting spaces for owls and other creature with the cavities they leave behind. Most of the males have a noticeable red pattern on their head, and by the way, since Valentine’s Day was just here, woodpeckers are the originators of love pats. In spring they will tap on any surface to create the loudest sound to attract the females.

Have fun following the bird beats with a different drum.

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