river talk

The percussionists of the forest

By SCOTT RANDO
Posted 3/10/21

We think of percussionists when we listen to our favorite music; chances are there is a drummer or some other musician beating a cadence of some sort with the rest of the band. Like us, nature has …

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river talk

The percussionists of the forest

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We think of percussionists when we listen to our favorite music; chances are there is a drummer or some other musician beating a cadence of some sort with the rest of the band. Like us, nature has its own percussionists. One that will be heard later in the spring is the ruffled grouse; during courtship displays, the male beats its wings, starting at a low cadence and ending up at a high rate. The sound resembles the beating of a bass drum. The biggest complement of nature’s percussionists in the region is the seven species of the woodpecker family.

Woodpeckers are of the family Picidae; this describes the significance of their long beak and what they use it for. If you go out to walk outside wherever there are some trees, you may hear some woodpeckers; they won’t be vocalizing as much as they’re drumming. Drumming is when they tap on a tree in rapid succession and make a lot of noise. Drumming is used to attract a mate and establish a territory. Many times, a woodpecker will pick a hollow tree trunk or large branch for more sound volume. At the moment, there are a good number of downy woodpeckers drumming in the woods.

Not all the woodpecker species drum at an even cadence. The yellow-bellied sapsucker, for example, has an erratic and slower-paced drumming beat. Aside from drumming, woodpeckers also use their bills to burrow into trees to forage for insects or to build nest cavities. This is usually quieter than the drumming used for courtship.

As spring gets underway, you will hear more drumming from the woodpeckers, and they will also vocalize more. The piliated woodpecker has a loud raucous call that carries through the forest, and its drum resembles twanging the spring of a doorstop. Later in the spring, if you get lucky, you may find a nesting cavity of a woodpecker. Look for adult woodpeckers flying in and out, stand away far enough to see a good side view of the tree with binoculars or a camera lens, and check on it from time to time; pretty soon, you may see young heads popping out of the entrance hole waiting for some food from their parents.

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