Saturday, March 24, 2012

New Bird: Nuttall's Woodpecker

Nuttall's Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii, Mission Trails Park. It's always fun to see a new bird. Woodpeckers are especially enchanting because you can hear the pock pock pock pock pock of their beaks pounding on the tree bark to ferret out grubs and beetles. This one was way up on the back side of a tree. Every now and then he would come around to my side of the tree and I would snap a few pictures before he would move off to the other side again.

How, you say, do they get away with pounding a tree with their heads without going totally bonkers? Sang-Hee Yoon and Sungmin Park of the University of California-Berkeley found that the woodpeckers had somewhat elastic beaks, spongy skully bones and a structure called the hyloid layer, attached to their tongues that, in combination, cushioned against the repetitive shock.

In addition to cushioned head structures, woodpeckers also have a different toe arrangement, with two toes forward and two back as opposed to three forward and one back as with most birds. This toe arrangement and bracing with stiff tail feathers helps woodpeckers cling vertically to trees for long periods of time while they peck for food.

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