Woodpeckers have Special Traits

By Dave Hanks

To live like a woodpecker requires a special set of physical features. How else could an animal cling so securely to the trunk of a tree? Short legs with sharp claws for grasping, two toes forward opposed by two toes pointing backward for grip, plus a short tail with stiff feathers for balance – these physical adaptations allow the bird to comfortably cling to vertical perches.

Some woodpeckers can hammer on a tree up to 20 times per second. This behavior also requires some special traits found only in this bird group. An extra thick skull, and the powerful, resilient muscles of their short necks absorb the shock resulting from all this pounding. This drumming is not only used to create tree cavities, but is also used as a signal to rival woodpeckers.

Their bills are extra stout and sharply pointed for chiseling. They use them to hunt for insects in a tree’s bark. To obtain the insects that makeup the lion’s share of their diet requires a special tongue. Tongues can be up to 6 inches long and have barbs on the end for securing the food once it’s uncovered. An extra long hyoid bone, which is not connected to any other skull bone, gives extra support to the tongue.

Woodpeckers are very important to woodland ecosystems. Not only do they help rid trees of parasites, but the cavities created are used by many other species when no longer in use by the creators of the cavities. Diversity of bird species in a woodland depends to a great extent upon woodpecker activity in that area.

The diversity and beauty of these birds strikes home to me. This group of birds ranks among the top three of my favorites.

(A Red-Shafted Flicker – A marvelous creation)