Hear the Differing Drumbeats of Woodpeckers

Each bird's distinctive hammering serves as a warning to others.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of the National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.


This is BirdNote!

Like a jazz player beating out a drum roll, a woodpecker uses its bill to rap out a brisk series of notes. 

Early spring resounds with the percussive hammering of woodpeckers. Their rhythmic drumming works like many birds’ songs: it broadcasts to other woodpeckers over a long distance a clear assertion of territorial and mating rights. 

We also hear woodpeckers knocking on wood when they're carving holes in trees to create nest cavities or extract insect prey, but these whacks are more methodical 

Woodpeckers offer a fascinating cast of drummers. A hefty Pileated Woodpecker lets go a resounding tattoo against a hollow trunk. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker seems to be signaling in Morse code, as it snaps its bill against a stub of dead branch. And the little Downy Woodpecker’s drum roll seems rather modest—rather short and not too fast.

For any woodpecker, it’s all about proclaiming a sound signal as far and as loud as possible. And as it searches for the most resonant drum, it might just find that your metal rain-gutter makes the best music.  

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein. 



Bird audio provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Downy Woodpecker and Red-breasted Sapsucker drumming and foraging Pileated Woodpecker recorded by G.A. Keller. Pileated Woodpecker recorded by D.S. Herr.  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker recordist not known. Red-breasted Sapsucker drumming on metal recorded by Susannah Buhrman.

BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

Narrator: Michael Stein

Producer: John Kessler

Written by Bob Sundstrom

© 2016 Tune In to Nature.org     March 2013/2018