Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Woodpeckers in the Park

Post contributed by Christine, Conservation Corps of Minnesota crew member:

This past week, the Corps crews have been working at Hidden Falls Regional Park, clearing invasive species.  The weather has been warm and cold as spring teases us, but even as temperatures fluctuate, we have been hearing many different species of birds.  We have been hearing chickadees, cardinals, and most commonly woodpeckers.

Pileated woodpecker
Woodpeckers are fascinating birds.  There are about 2 dozen species of woodpeckers in the United States.  The pileated is the largest bird in the US, and the downy is the most common. Woodpeckers have all kinds of specializations to aid their strange pecking habits.  First, their skull is reinforced and structured to spread the impact force to prevent headaches from constant pecking.  That is good news for woodpeckers, because they do a lot of pecking: woodpeckers can peck up to 20 times per second, or a total of 8,000-12,000 pecks per day.  They also have zygodactyl feet, which means two toes face forward and two backward.  This arrangement helps them grip trees as they forage for food.  They also have incredibly long tongues used for grabbing the insects from the holes they peck.  Some species have tongues as long as four inches!  Their tongues are barbed so that their food sticks.  As they create holes in trees, wood particles fly off, but they have bristly feathers that lay over their nostrils to ensure that no debris clogs their airways. 
Male downy woodpecker

Look for signs of woodpeckers this spring. Rectangular holes in downed trees are characteristic of Pileated woodpeckers foraging for grubs.  Keep your eye out for Downy woodpeckers with chickadees and nuthatches, as they participate in mixed flock dynamics.  These special birds are always a sight to see.

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