As you stand outside in your yard or in the woods, do you hear the sound of a peck, whack, or that constant drilling noise?
This would be known as the woodpecker. There are 22 species in the United States but Ohio only has seven of these, which include the red-headed woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, hairy woodpecker, northern flicker, and the pileated woodpecker.
As one of Ohio’s most captivating group of birds, the woodpeckers can be fascinating but yet frustrating. This can depend if it’s pecking in the woods or on a landscaping tree or your house.
With that being said, these creatures drill, peck, and drum to establish territory and attract mates, extract insects, and create nesting cavities.
Can you imagine beating your head against a tree 8,000-10,000 times at 100 times per minute at a speed of 12-15 mph? I would say these woodpeckers are a specialized family. So how do they do it?
Fortunately, these birds have a spongy tissue filled with air to protect their intellect. They also have extra cartilage between the bill and skull, a frontal bone in the skull, a perfect right angle with each blow, wider neck ribs with extra muscle, sturdy beaks, and strong feet and tail.
The features of this bird make it very unique. The woodpeckers’ long tongue is sensitive, sticky, hairy, and barbed. Did you know that they stored these long tongues inside their noses?
Some tongues can be up to four inches long. These tongues are so special in order to capture their prey.
The sticky saliva and barbs on the end of their tongues help woodpeckers collect insects deep inside trees.
Consider that a single northern flicker can eat thousands of carpenter ants in one day.
These tongues help them capture their main food, which is insects.
Their diet also consists of nuts and berries. Of course the yellow-bellied sapsucker will also feed on sap.
Nesting and roosting
The straight, chisel-like bill is used to excavate holes in trees for nesting and roosting. It is also used for foraging insects, insect eggs and larva.
Sometimes they will bore holes in wood just to encourage insects to take up residence, thus coining a ready food supply.
They have well positioned eyes to help them see predators and they fit tightly into the skull to prevent damage during pecking. The feathers around the beak help them to protect their airway from inhaling wood during pecking.
Their strong feet consist of two toes forward and two toes backward. The stiff tail feathers allow it to tripod itself on trees. The woodpecker’s breeding season usually starts in the spring with the males securing a territory.
Territories of woodpeckers depend on the size of the bird; the larger the bird, the larger the territory. They usually will choose a live or dead tree to build a cavity.
Except for the flickers, they will use an existing cavity. The males will do the excavation, which can take 1-6 weeks depending on the size of the bird. The size of the hole can be a clue to help identify the woodpecker species.
Woodpeckers lay two-eight white eggs. Most only have one brood a year.
Both parents incubate, feed, and raise the young. In the woods, woodpeckers are often heard but not seen.
Woodpeckers do not sing, but like songbirds’ songs, woodpeckers have their own unique peck or call.
The rhythm, duration, or pattern of holes can distinguish a woodpecker from the next. The woodpecker habitat must consist of trees for nesting and feeding.
Having a diversity in hard mast and soft mast trees would be beneficial for woodpeckers.
Also, leaving dead snags stand will provide for nesting. Woodpeckers are year-round residents except for the yellow-bellied sapsucker.
Woodpeckers are captivating for their structural design and beneficial to our environment for the many wood-boring insects they eat which include invasive insects.
Also, other wildlife species will utilize the cavities after the woodpeckers move out.
So, in conclusion, these birds can be annoying at times but are beneficial to our environment. After describing how fascinating they are and how they contribute, I hope you find them more interesting, like I did.
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