I have heard the rapid-fire rapping of woodpeckers pecking on telephone poles and vent pipes during my neighborhood walks recently.
It’s a sure sign that spring is here, even if snow is still falling.
Male woodpeckers make the rattling sounds to attract mates and to mark their territory. You would think that hammering on aluminum stove pipes would bend their beaks, since they are hitting the metal at a speed of about 12 mph. But their beaks are pretty tough. They are made out of the same stuff as human fingernails, something called keratin.
American three-toed woodpeckers are known to “drum” on poles and pipes in the Billings area, as well as across the western part of the state.
Once they find a mate, both the male and female will use their beaks to carve out a nest in a dead or dying tree.
The hairy woodpecker, which is found across much of North America, is another bird that will use poles and pipes to rattle out its spring love song.
Female hairy woodpeckers will drum back, announcing their presence, and then the courtship begins. In flight, the birds will strike their wings to their sides, producing a clapping sound.
Once they lay their eggs, the woodpeckers take turns babysitting, with the male taking the night shift and the female incubating the eggs during the day.
So listen carefully while you are out walking this spring and see if you can identify what kind of woodpecker is making noise in your neighborhood.
— Brett French
Gazette Outdoors editor