Let The Drumming Begin

When I stepped outside the house on a recent morning, I heard the staccato drumming of a woodpecker. Nice, I thought. Spring.

Yes, the snow was still about 18 inches deep in my yard. But when I start to hear the drumming of woodpeckers, I know winter is on the run.

A pileated woodpecker. (News Tribune file)

Woodpeckers tap to find food and excavate cavities in decaying trees all year around. Drumming is different. It’s much louder, a rapid and resonant sound made when the woodpecker pounds away on hollow trees, house siding, street signs, utility poles, rain downspouts, trash cans or anything that offers a high-decibel pay-off.

Woodpeckers, unlike songbirds, don’t have songs. They may drum to establish a territory or to attract a mate. The exact drumming pattern varies by species. Around here, most of the drumming is done by downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers and pileated woodpeckers.

One day, on a trail run, I heard a loud metallic banging. I thought maybe a construction project was under way on a nearby street. When I popped out of the woods, I saw a pileated woodpecker drumming on a metal road sign.

Woodpeckers are perfectly adapted to do this rapidfire drumming, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y.: “Contrary to popular opinion, woodpeckers do not get headaches from banging on trees. They have thickened skulls and powerful neck muscles that enable them to deliver sharp blows without damaging their organs.”