Woods and their woodpeckers
Many songbirds are calling now, declaring their territories as they build nests and work on raising their young. Some songs are pretty – warbles, coos, and whistles that sound sweet. Robins, cardinals, and finches sing beautifully (even if they do start their “dawn chorus” well before sunrise!). Others, like jays, crows, and ravens, get the job done without any real melody whatsoever, relying on shrieks, caws, and croaks instead.
Rather than singing, woodpeckers peck on various objects to sound out their claim to space. You may have heard sounds like a short drum roll. These sharp-billed birds use dead tree limbs, telephone poles, and drainpipes, pecking rapidly on the surface – not to make a big hole but to loudly declare their personal boundaries.
We were awakened very early on the morning after we moved into our home in late March, many years ago, by a sound like an impact driver or demolition saw being used briefly on some crucial part of the house. My husband sat bolt upright in bed and exclaimed, “What was THAT?” It repeated every few minutes for about half an hour. This went on for several days, always starting well before our alarm clock was set to go off.
We wondered what we’d gotten into! Was it something mechanical? A disgruntled neighbour? Was the house about to collapse as we slept?
After several early morning wake-up calls, I decided to investigate the source of all that racket. With great relief I discovered that it was a “just” a woodpecker pounding away near the base of the metal furnace chimney pipe. How cool, right? After a couple more weeks our “drumming alarm clock” stopped, and we resumed our regular morning routine.
For the rest of the year you may hear woodpeckers call with short peeps, rolling rattles and trills, or short “cuk” alarm calls. They are shy birds but may come to a backyard suet feeder. Ranging in size from the diminutive sparrow-sized downy woodpecker to the majestic pileated woodpecker that’s almost as big as a crow, they drill with their strong beaks into trees to find wood-boring insects and sap for food, and to create cavities for their nests.
Nancy Melcher is The Nature Nut. Send details of your sightings or questions about the natural world to: firstname.lastname@example.org