No Headaches For Woodpeckers

In a recent study, Wang et al investigated why woodpeckers do not suffer head injuries on sudden impact.  Using high-speed video and finite element modeling, they studied the woodpecker’s intracranial dynamic responses.  Their results showed that specially designed bones and unequal lengths of upper and lower beak were predominant factors contributing to a woodpecker’s shock absorption system.

When I first started birding, although I could hear woodpeckers pecking away in the distance in the woods, I could barely spot them let alone distinguish one woodpecker from another.  The smallest of the woodpeckers, also the commonest in North America is the Downy woodpecker which is about 6″ in length.  While the males have a distinctive red patch behind their head, the females are rather plain.  However the challenge lies in distinguishing the Downy woodpecker from the Hairy woodpecker which is almost identical except in size.

It is almost impossible to tell one from another in the field unless they happen to be together.  The Hairy is about a couple of inches longer than the Downy and also has a slightly longer beak.

And then there is the Red-bellied woodpecker which is odd because you can barely see the red belly but a distinct red head.  However to add to the confusion there is another species aptly named the Red-headed woodpecker.

You can look at the differences between a Red-bellied and Red-headed woodpecker shown below.

 A few years back while birding in Arizona, I saw for the first time several Gila woodpeckers perched conspicuously on Saguaro cacti.  Gila woodpeckers are endemic to the southwest desert region, specifically the Sonoran desert.

After trekking in the Ramsey Canyon south of Tucson for a couple of hours, I finally heard the distinct sound that only woodpeckers can make and was pleasantly surprised to spot my first Acorn woodpecker with its distinct eye ring.  As the name suggests this woodpecker gathers acorns and hoards them.

Finally for this post we get to see a species that doesn’t have the word woodpecker in its name -the Northern Flicker.  Often seen alone but sometimes in large groups, the yellow-shafted Northern flicker is more common in the eastern states.   The Flicker in this photo seems to be subtly aware of the fact that it has been caught on camera!

4 thoughts on “No Headaches For Woodpeckers

  1. Julie G.

    Wonderful woodpecker photographs! It’s always a joy to see and hear these cool birds. Great variety shown here on this fabulous post. I especially liked seeing your Gila and Acorn Woodpecker images, as I have yet to see either of them in person.

    Reply
  2. Deb Platt

    Interesting article and nicely illustrated!

    Here’s another way to distinguish between downy and hairy woodpeckers: both species have white feathers accenting the outer sides of their tails. However the downy woodpecker has dark spots on these white tail feathers, while the hairy woodpecker’s white tail feathers are a solid white.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Black woodpecker nests saved | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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