Woodpeckers live in wooded areas and forests, where they tap on tree trunks in order to find insects living in crevices in the bark and to excavate nest cavities. They use drumming as the mode of communication unlike other song birds. When a woodpecker drums on a resonant object, the resulting sound can be heard for great distances by other birds. Other woodpeckers will recognize the sound by its pattern and tempo, and birds of the same species can be attracted to potential mates through drumming. At the same time, drumming alerts competitors that the nearby territory is claimed and can be defended by a strong, vibrant bird that can produce good drumming.
Between feeding, excavating nest cavities and drumming woodpeckers can peck up to 20 times per second, or a total of 8,000-12,000 pecks per day. They have special physical adaptations that allow them to peck quickly and repeatedly on hard objects without hurting themselves. Thicker skulls cushion the birds’ brains and heads from hard impacts, and strong neck muscles allow them to drum for long periods of time without strain. Their bills are also thick, straight and sturdy to with stand drumming impact.
Woodpecker tongues are long and very extendable. Species that excavate into bark and wood for insects have sharp, barbed tongues for spearing prey in their tunnels.
While most birds have one toe pointing back and three pointing forward on each foot, woodpeckers have two sharply clawed toes pointing in each direction to help them grasp the sides of trees and balance while they hammer – this formation is called zygodactal feet. Many woodpecker species also have stiffened tail feathers, which they press against a tree surface to help support their weight.
Woodpeckers play an important role in forest ecosystems. They help to keep down the number of bark and wood boring insects, thereby contributing to the health of the tree trunk and the bark covering. Where woodpeckers have pecked other smaller birds like tits, nuthatches and tree creepers forage for any remaining insects and spiders. Owls, nuthatches, wasps and bees use woodpecker holes for nesting. Woodpeckers help indirectly to exert pressure on the huge population of insects and mice.
Natural selection controls all living organisms on Earth. It makes sure that only the the best, strongest and smartest survive. It is fascinating to know how woodpeckers have adapted themselves to survive.
Picture credits A.S.Kannan