…so goes the Woodpeckers, knocking on the tree branches, with their powerful beak.
By Ragoo Rao, Ethologist
We hear the Woodpeckers first and then try to locate them in the direction of the sound. Woodpeckers knock on wood; they have to, for that is where their food is hidden. The Woodpeckers are not killing the trees by boring a hole in them, in fact they are saving the trees from insect grub infestation, which might have killed the tree. Woodpeckers are friends of the trees. They rid them of insect grubs which will be feeding away on the pith of the tree branch and killing the branch.
Woodpeckers tap the tree trunks with their beaks, like a Surgeon or Physician, taps our chest and back to get a sound feedback to their palms to diagnose if there is something wrong underneath. Same way Woodpeckers tap the tree trunks to look for tell tale sounds of grubs feeding deep inside the trunk. Once the grub is located, then the frenzied drilling of a hole starts, with fast and furious pecks like a drill hammer, until the grub is exposed and captured.
The woodpeckers have evolved with a suitable head with heavy skull formation and good cushioning around the skulls to protect them of the impact of drilling, thus protecting their brains inside. A sort of built-in helmet. Thus, ridding the trees of infestations which would have been lethal to the trees.
Our country has about 29 to 30 species of Woodpeckers. The one in the picture is the White-bellied Woodpecker — Dryocopusjavensis, the second largest woodpecker in our region. There are Woodpeckers in various colours and sizes, some as small as just 16 cms in size.
This Black bird with a Red Crown and Whitish Flanks and thighs, are habituates of the well-wooded forests. The one in the picture here is a female. Woodpeckers bond for life and are always seen in pairs, communicate with each other with tapping sounds on the tree trunks, announcing and keeping track of each other’s position and location.
Though the woodpeckers are not listed in the Endangered or Concerned Species by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), it is the responsibility of all of us to protect these great birds which occupy a special niche in the eco-system.
[Pic. captured by M.N. Lakshminarayana Yadav at Nagarahole]