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Woodpeckers Drumming

2-16-18 hairy woodpecker IMG_0039

As tempting as it is to refer to the drumming of a Hairy Woodpecker or a Downy Woodpecker as a sign of spring, the truth is that both males and females drum at any time of year.  However, there’s definitely an uptick at this time of year. Drumming rates are usually highest prior to nesting, lower during nesting, and increase again after young leave the nest.

Much of the drumming in late winter has to do with courtship. Woodpeckers drum to define territories, locate a mate, summon a mate and to solicit copulation, among other things. Males are already busy establishing and defending territories, so keep an ear tuned for the sound of a bill pounding repeatedly against a tree or other hard surface.

For those wishing to distinguish between Hairy and Downy Woodpecker drums, according to David Sibley the drum of a Hairy Woodpecker is extremely fast and buzzing, with at least 25 taps per second, but has long pauses of 20 seconds or more between drums. Downy Woodpeckers drum at a slower rate, only about 15 taps per second, and drum frequently, often with pauses of only a few seconds between each drum. (To hear their respective drums, go to http://www.sibleyguides.com/2011/03/identifying-downy-and-hairy-woodpeckers-by-drumming-sounds/ )  (Photo: male Hairy Woodpecker)

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12 responses

  1. Thanks, Mary, for alerting us to the drumming. I have a question: When woodpeckers are eating bugs in the tree wood, do they make a sound? It sometimes seems like they are “pecking out” the bugs. But I also have seen what looked like woodpeckers devouring bugs (i.e.Pileated Woodpecker) seemingly not makie any sound. Not always sure what I’m seeing/hearing.

    February 19, 2018 at 8:31 am

    • Peter Hollinger

      I can easily hear a pileated woodpecker whacking away at a snag across the way, and downy woodpeckers make a familiar pecking/prying sound when they hunt bugs.

      February 19, 2018 at 9:01 am

    • You’re right on both counts. The drilling is to reach the bugs they hear. Once they’ve gotten to them, eating them is relatively silent!

      February 19, 2018 at 4:30 pm

  2. Alice Pratt

    I enjoy hearing the drumming in our woods…especially on a dead tree…..that’s very quick drumming…amazing they don’t wear their beaks out…I wonder how fast Red-bellied Woodpeckers drum?

    February 19, 2018 at 8:33 am

  3. Also visit Cornell’s “All About Birds” (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/) for great sound recordings, including woodpecker drum rolls!

    February 19, 2018 at 8:39 am

  4. It’s interesting that scientists are now studying woodpecker brains for possible links to / prevent of brain damage in humans.

    February 19, 2018 at 8:54 am

  5. Guy Stoye

    Now I know what the buzzing/knocking was yesterday, above me in the tree from which our bird feeders and two suet bags hang. It was a downy. Downys and Hairys are always around and we love them both.

    February 19, 2018 at 11:11 am

  6. Reuben

    I was landscaping in Sugar Hill, NH some years ago and a large woodpecker scared me when he/she began pounding on a metal mailbox mounted on a post right behind he. He must have liked the sound. It was loud!

    February 19, 2018 at 6:07 pm

    • Love it! Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are famous for finding metal signs, chimney flashing, etc. — whatever will make the absolute loudest sound when hammered!

      February 20, 2018 at 9:13 am

  7. nangalland

    Hi Mary – did you hear the report that ‘they’ have found that woodpeckers actually experience brain damage due to their head-banging? I heard it on NPR but don’t remember when. I also recall that football helmet design is based on the bone structure in woodpeckers’ heads – so much for the efficacy of that idea!! – xox- Nan

    >

    February 19, 2018 at 7:45 pm

    • Hi Nan,
      No, that is news to me! Thanks for letting me know! Fascinating.

      February 20, 2018 at 9:11 am

  8. Bill On The Hill...

    …Greetings Mary – First off, nice shot of Mr. Hairy. He appears to be in a moment of reflection…
    Both the male & females of the Downy & Hairy woodpeckers are reg. visitors at my suet holders…
    I will stick with the ” tempting ” part on thinking spring is in the air btw!
    One thing I enjoy about your web-site is the interesting comments from folks observations of things around themselves with spring fast (?) approaching…
    Bill Farr…

    February 20, 2018 at 9:07 am

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