Monday, July 9, 2018

Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes & Bagging Bugs

Woodpeckers are odd and fascinating birds. What other bird, for example, intentionally bangs its head against a tree? Most are brightly colored with varying degrees of red, white, and black but some are less flashy. In Woodpeckers, Collard points out that there are more than 200 species of woodpeckers and birds in the Picidae family and they live on every continent except Antarctica and Australia with about twenty-two species in the United States and Canada.

Readers learn that while they all eat bugs (that is what they are looking for in the trees) they also eat sap, seeds, berries, and nuts. A woodpecker's beak bangs away at about 15 mph yet somehow they avoid brain damage. (Find out how in the book.) They also have "amazingly long tongues" and a reinforced beak. Makes sense!

Used under license by Creative Commons
While we meet many species of woodpeckers in this book, the most famous woodpecker is, of course, Woody. Woody was based on an Acorn Woodpecker, one of the species covered by Collard, supposedly because one was banging away on the cabin where Walter Lantz was staying. Acorn Woodpeckers collect thousands of acorns throughout the year, storing them in trees riddled with storage holes, or in old water tanks, vacant houses, and telephone poles.

Collard covers other types of woodpeckers, including sapsuckers (yes, there are yellow-bellied sapsuckers but they are not cowardly) and flickers. The book ends with a look at lost and vanishing woodpeckers. In addition to what Collard has to say, I recommend reading the Race to Save the Lord God Bird by Phillip Hoose, which examines the tragic failure to save the Ivory-billed Woodpecker from extinction.

Copyright Phillip Hoose

Sapsucker; Photo by Jeanette Larson
Woodpeckers is a great introduction to a fascinating and fun species of birds and Collard includes a lot of humor and puns. Check out the two pages of photo bloopers for a fun look at the challenges of bird photography. (Although I have to say Collard's worst photographs are always better than most of mine!). In a book filled with information and colorful photographs, every birder will learn
something new.

Also by Sneed B. Collard III is  Fire Birds: Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests.