Great spotted woodpecker

DKG’s first sighting of a great spotted woodpecker this year.

The drumming noise that a great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) makes serves the same purpose that a blackbird’s song serves: it is its way of establishing its claim on a territory. Woodpeckers usually drum on dead wood but have been known to use other resonant surfaces such as the metal plates on telegraph poles or metal signposts. Both sexes drum, although the male does so much more often than the female.

The greater spotted woodpecker drums faster than any other woodpecker. It makes 10–16 strikes every second, in frequently repeated one-second bursts. To protect its brain from the force it uses to make the drumming noises, it has an especially adapted hinge between its lower mandible and its skull that spreads the force of the blow, and the skull is cushioned with a matrix of minute pockets of air, supported by strengthened bone tissue. This forms a natural shock absorber.

Once their single brood of chicks has left the nest, the great spotted woodpecker parents will stop drumming almost entirely. They will go their separate ways during the winter but next year their distinctive territorial claims will be heard again as early as January.

Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming by Peter Alfrey

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