@vanwoodpecker: Pileated Woodpecker


The Pileated Woodpecker is the last bird that will be featured this week so that you, gentle reader, may be able to make an informed choice as you vote in the 2014/2015 Vancouver City Bird contest before May 10.

As I indicated a few days ago, I will take this occasion to try to answer two common questions linked to woodpeckers:

  • First, how to they climb trees the way they do? The answer is linked to the strength of their claws and tail muscles, not to mention their very stiff tail feathers, which provide them with a fair deal of leverage as they go up.
  • Second, given how often they bang their bills against a rather hard tree to find food, do woodpeckers get headaches or concussions? As it turns out, it would seem the answer is no. L. J. Gibson summarizes the main reasons in the following manner: The relatively small size of this family’s members “reduces the stress on the brain for a given acceleration;” the brevity of the impact “increases the tolerable acceleration,” and “the orientation of the brain within the skull… increases the area of contact between the brain and the skull.” [L.J. Gibson “Woodpecker pecking: how woodpeckers avoid brain injury” Journal of Zoology 270 (2006) 462]

I should also point out that the Pileated Woodpecker is currently considered to be the largest North American woodpecker. But this was not always the case: Both the Ivory-billed and Emperor Woodpeckers (which lived in the Southern United States and Mexico, respectively) were larger, but are now considered to be most likely extinct due to habitat loss, hunting and other human activities. I guess I bring this up to say that we should do all that we can to ensure that the Pileated will not share in the fate of their cousins by preserving our old-growth trees and forests and by keeping the impact of our activities on their lives to a strict minimum.

Now that I have concluded my series on the six fascinating birds that are running for election as Vancouver’s next City Bird, there is only only thing left to do: Vote!


2 thoughts on “@vanwoodpecker: Pileated Woodpecker

  1. I have only seen this woodpecker once in my life. It appeared at the back of my cottage a few summers ago (Georgian Bay, ON). I was amazed at how large they are. I had no idea.

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