Monday, 2 March 2020

Nature's Wild Drummers

We are sharing Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s newsletter about woodpeckers.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Did you know while our resident songbirds like the robin, great tit, chaffinch, wren and blackbird sing the melody, it's our woodpeckers that bring the rhythm. And it's this time of year when the great spotted woodpecker and their smaller, rarer cousin, the lesser spotted woodpecker can be heard drumming their beaks against trees or other hard surfaces; excavating holes for nests and food.

We have three species in the UK: the great spotted woodpecker, the green woodpecker and the lesser spotted woodpecker.

Built-in shock absorbers

So how can woodpeckers drum their beaks against a tree over and over again without hurting themselves? The answer lies inside its head. The bones of the woodpecker’s skull are a durable combination of spongy ‘shock absorbers’ and a specially-adapted tongue bone that acts as a ‘seat belt’. This holds the brain tightly in place while they drum with impressive force in bursts of up to 20 times per second!

Both males and females ‘drum’ for food, but the male also uses it a way of proclaiming his territory and to advertise for a mate.

Super feet

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Most birds have four 'toes' with three that face forwards and one that faces backwards to help them cling to branches. Woodpeckers like to do things a little differently. Instead of the usual toe arrangement, woodpeckers have 'zygodactyl' feet. This means they have two toes that face forwards and two that face backwards.

This arrangement of toes, along with a short strong tail which they use as a prop, enables woodpeckers to climb up and hang onto vertical tree trunks with ease.

Tongue twister

Green Woodpecker

Woodpeckers have super long sticky tongues which they use to slurp up insects and grubs that they find in tree trunks. The green woodpecker's tongue is an amazing 10cm long! It's so long that it curls around the back of its skull to fit inside its head.

Where to see or hear woodpeckers

Woodpeckers usually live in woodland, but even with their brightly coloured feathers they can be hard to spot. Instead listen for their drumming to try to work out where they are.

So wrap up warm and go out into the woodlands near you on a still, clear day. Ancient, broadleaved woodlands are the best, with enough big old trees to give places for woodpeckers to nest. Great spotted woodpeckers drum in short bursts that fade out at the end. The drumming of the lesser spotted woodpecker is higher pitched, in a longer burst that stops abruptly. It's sometimes possible to entice a woodpecker closer or to encourage him to reply by hitting a dead branch with a stone.

Here are just some of the places we know are great for hearing woodpeckers:

- Bickley Hall Farm, Malpas
- Cleaver Heath, Heswall
- Compstall Nature Reserve within Etherow Country Park
- Dibbinsdale Local Nature Reserve, Bromborough
- Gowy Meadows, Thornton-le-Moors
- Hatchmere, near Delamere Forest
- Hockenhull Platts, Waverton
- Owley Wood, Weaverham
- Swettenham Valley Nature Reserve and across the Dane Valley
- Warburton's Wood and Hunter's Wood in Frodsham

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great spotted woodpeckers are also frequent visitors to bird feeders, so put some seeds and peanuts out and you might be lucky enough to spot one in your garden.

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