A drumroll for Spring ?

Flanders Moss NNR

We have had a brutal spell of weather up until about a week ago. The ground has been frozen since before Christmas and there has been a varying amount of snow cover as well. A proper winter and I don’t think it has finished yet. So, a few days ago on an very cold early morning visit to the west side of Flanders Moss, Spring wasn’t on the mind. Until I heard this.

A great spotted woodpecker drumming on a branch of dead oak. This is an early spring sound, made by both male and female woodpeckers to advertise their presence. It is interesting to see that this bird picks a very specific spot on the branch – reaching to the side. It had already tried two different places on the tree, each one producing a different sound and this was the favoured spot, presumably as it made the best sound that carried the furthest. Certainly in the distance was another woodpecker drumming in answer.

As recently as the 1940s there was still a discussion going on as to whether the noise of a woodpecker was made by actually drumming on wood or by vocalisation. It was only in 1943 that an ornithologist called Norman Pullen put a microphone inside a favoured woodpecker branch and was able to match the strikes of the bill with the sound. He also showed that it wasn’t about hitting the wood as hard as possible to make the loudest noise but more about creating the right frequency of blows (between 5-20 strikes per half second!) that creates the right resonance to make the sound carry. To avoid headaches woodpeckers actually have brain protection in the form of increased bone growth and a pad of spongy material between the bill and skull.

The woodpeckers drumming tree.

Seeing a great spotted woodpecker is always encouraging. With a background of biodiversity decline it is worth remembering that it isn’t al bad news. In the 1700 and 1800s woodpeckers became extinct in Scotland as trees and woodland were cleared from the landscape. With the large scale replanting of the landscape they reappeared in the very end of the nineteenth century and are now regularly seen across much of Scotland. It is one of those birds that despite being not uncommon seeing one is always noteworthy. But especially when it is heralding spring.

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2 Responses to A drumroll for Spring ?

  1. Anne says:

    A great sign of spring. Woodpeckers are very interesting birds to observe,

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ladylanders says:

    Love woodpeckers and they are so beautiful, both types that we get in Scotland. I’ve said this before, but any mention of woodpeckers has me humming ‘the woody wood pecker soooonng’ for the rest of the day!

    Liked by 1 person

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