Rat-a-tat tat

A few years ago, we replaced our aging backyard deck with a new, wooden work of art. imagine our dismay when we started hearing regular pounding sounds from that area. A glance outside showed that it was not a neighbor building a fence but a large hairy woodpecker drumming with all its might on our brand new and costly wood. Out I went to chase it away. With a surprised look, the bird flew only to return a moment later.

We know how woodpeckers do what they do. The firmly planted feet and stiff-feathered tail pressed hard against a tree trunk form a strong triangular base from which to operate. Their skulls and necks are equipped with a kind of shock absorber so they can peck away for lengthy periods without scrambling their brains.

But why would this woodpecker waste its energy digging in pressure-treated wood where no insects or larvae were ever going to be found?

The answer, as it often is in animal behavior, is found it the bird’s reproductive urge. The nesting season goes by quickly and there is a lot of competition for mates. Males must demonstrate to females that they possess strength, intelligence and good health in order to compete with others. What better way than to be the loudest drummer in the area. You’ve got to be intelligent to find those highly resonant materials and strong and healthy in order to blaze away for long periods of time. But the reward of passing on your genes makes it all worthwhile.

I’ve seen flickers blasting away on metal poles. Sapsuckers use a drumming sound to establish territory rather than by singing as most birds do. Once, I heard tremendously strong  rhythm coming from a wooded area and was convinced it was a pileated woodpecker. This bird could have been in the percussion section for a performance of Bolero. After some exploration, I found the artist: a tiny, male downy woodpecker who had found the best hollow trunk in the woods to hammer on.

The girls are still talking about that one!

Miles Hearn

Hairy woodpecker

Hairy woodpecker



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