Where a woodpecker rests its head

1 02 2007

Hairy Woodpecker Roost Hole While walking through Sapsucker Woods two evenings ago with a fellow nuthatch we heard the shrill insistent “peek” of a Hairy Woodpecker repeated several times. We honed in on the sound just in time to see him disappear into a waiting cavity by the low light of a setting sun. As our walk continued, the rapid “kuk-kuk-kuk” of a Pileated Woodpecker echoed through the bare trees, and once again we were treated to a bed-time vision, this time of a crow-sized woodpecker being enveloped by a gaping cavity in a large beech tree. The time was roughly 16:30, with over a half hour to go until sunset, and already the woodpeckers were bedded down for the long night until sunrise, over 12 hours wedged in a tiny hole.

The subject of where birds go to sleep has always been a source of fascination. Indeed, the reality that nearly every animal beds down at some sort of interval to rest is a commonality of sorts. Birds, of course, are no different, but the thought of spending my nights perched on a twig somewhere, exposed to the elements, has always given me the willies.

Downy WoodpeckerEnter the woodpecker. It turns out that a woodpecker’s bill is quite good at, well, pecking wood, and that the skull attached to that bill has a number of adaptations that allow a woodpecker to carry out its grisly business without risking its brains in the process. It also turns out that woodpeckers use thier stout bills to carve out toasty nooks within the shells of dead and dying trees, manipulating their sleeping environment into a dark haven for cold wintry nights. Although woodpeckers are not the only ones to roost in cavities (chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches are among the many winter cavity-roosters), they are certainly the most prolific creators of cavities in a woodland environment. Even the wee downy woodpecker is said to need as many as 10 cavities a year (taking into account the number of cavities needed for breeding, roosting, fledgling roosts, and some amount of attrition), with males and females differing in their preferred roost sites, and each cavity taking 2-3 weeks of work. All of which equals a lot of pecking, and all the more reason to sleep long and hard through those cold winter nights…

Sapsucker Woods sunset




One response

1 02 2007
A Blog Around The Clock

Blogrolling – added today

Natural History Artworks Primordial Blog Salutor Framed Welcome To DigitalKaos The Contemplative Nuthatch Commonground Jonstraveladventures Positive Psychology Blog Strange Loops…

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