1 WHY DO WOODIES DRUM?
For the same reasons that birds sing: to establish territories and attract mates. In the UK, the great spotted woodpecker is the one you’re most likely to hear – it has a strong, fast drum of 6–20 strikes per second that can be heard up to 500m away. The lesser spotted woodpecker has a longer, quieter, more rapid drum, reminiscent of a drill when heard from a distance. Green woodpeckers rarely drum, but when they do, the sound is softer and longer.
2 HOW DOES IT NOT HURT?
Woodpeckers have various adaptations that prevent them from sustaining injury from drumming. They have thicker skulls with air pockets that cushion their brains, strong neck muscles that allow them to hammer away for extended periods, and thick, straight bills that can withstand the impact of the repeated strikes. The birds also have a coating of stiff bristles at the base of the bill, thought to protect their eyes and nostrils from flying debris. Woodpecker drumming can be heard all year round, but is most intense between late January and late April.
3 DO THEY DRUM ANYTHING OTHER THAN TREES?
Trees comprised of dead, hard wood are most sought after for drumming, as their resonance allows the sound to carry far and wide. Individuals can get quite attached to their favourite sounding posts. But woodpeckers have been known to use alternative sites, such as telegraph or flag poles. In the USA, the birds even drum on houses, causing so much damage that an entire industry exists to keep them at bay.