Hear that Hammering? Don’t Assume It’s a Woodpecker

Chickadees and nuthatches also carve out nest cavities.

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.

Spring means woodpeckers carving out nest cavities. They’re our most familiar bird carpenters.

But they aren't the only excavators at work. 

Tiny nuthatches, which also have chisel-like bills, are exceptional wood carvers. They will chip out nests in wood as tough as utility poles.

Some nuthatches coat their nest holes with sticky conifer resin. This may discourage predators or competitors—like squirrels and House Wrens—from taking over the nest site. The nuthatches flit above the sap as they come and go. The resin deposited outside Red-cockaded Woodpecker holes is thought to deter predators such as snakes.

Very soft tapping may signal a chickadee at work. Even without a chisel for a bill, chickadees can still peck their way into less dense wood, like a knothole or a decayed section of a trunk.

Both males and females ferry out wood chips, creating a cylindrical cavity about eight inches deep. Finally, the female alone adds a nesting layer of moss, lined with a softer material like fur, to make a soft and warm bed for eggs and nestlings. 

So listen this spring for bird carpenters—and watch for telltale showers of sawdust.

For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by Geoffrey A. Keller, Wil Hershberger, and Ryan Sanderson.

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

Producer: John Kessler

Managing Producer: Jason Saul

Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone

Narrator: Mary McCann

Written by Bob Sundstrom

© 2018 Tune In to Nature.org    May 2018