Field Notes

Woodpecker Drumming

February 20, 2019

In late winter/early spring, one of the most reliable signs of spring is the sound of woodpeckers drumming in the woods.

There are 8 woodpecker species in Michigan, and we are fortunate to have seven of them in our region: Red-Headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, the Red-bellied Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, the Downy Woodpecker, Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (migratory species), and the Northern Flicker.

Woodpeckers drum for the same reasons song birds sing during the spring breeding season – to attract a mate and protect their nesting territory. Woodpecker drumming varies by species, with the patterns and sounds quite distinct. They select a drumming material that will carry their sound a long distance like hollow trees, roofs, or other resonant materials.

With all that drumming, doesn’t it seem like Woodpeckers would injure themselves or get wicked headaches? Luckily their skulls are cushioned by a matrix of minute pockets of air, supported by strengthened bone tissue so they are free to hammer away!

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