Skip navigation.

Woodpeckers find a louder drum

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 19 Feb 2010 at 04:09 PM

Up at the garden this week, we heard the sound of a male Great Spotted Woodpecker hammering its beak against a tree. They do this to announce their presence in the area and can batter against a tree trunk up to 40 times a second, which makes you wonder why they don’t get headaches. If we did that, our brains would swirl around inside our skulls and we would soon be unconscious and, even if we weren’t unconscious, then we’d probably be very uncomfortable and no doubt quite cross as well. Fortunately, nature has provided woodpeckers with an efficient shock absorbing system, which means that their brains are able to absorb the blows, avoiding concussion, so allowing them to hammer away as much as they want to.

There are plenty of trees around the garden for the woodpeckers to hammer against, but some woodpeckers have discovered that they can make a louder drumming by using telegraph poles instead of trees. I first discovered this several years ago, when I was wakened at first light by the sound of the bedroom radiator vibrating. This happened on several mornings during the next couple of weeks and, initially, I was mystified at what could be causing it.

Not the best bird shot I've ever taken, but you can clearly see the woodpecker

On the mornings when the radiator vibrated, I wandered around the house, trying to find the source of the vibration and eventually, after a few days, thought to open the front door and listen outside and it was there that I discovered the culprit. At the top of the telegraph pole on the pavement, a woodpecker was enthusiastically battering away at the metal cap on the top of the pole. The reverberation from the hammering was carried down the telephone lines, through the wall and from there to the radiators. The sight of my tousled, dressing-gowned self at the front door was enough to send it rushing straight for the woods, but it returned many times to continue its drumming.

Looking into it, I came across other stories of woodpeckers hammering on telegraph poles, as shown on Lucinda Manouch’s attractive blog, amongst others. A web search on the phrase ‘woodpecker damage’ brought 38,000 results and it seems that plastic woodpecker decoys are even being tried out in Canada, where they are attached to utilities poles in some places to try and deter the real woodpeckers from pecking them so much that they fall over.

The sight of woodpeckers hammering at telegraph poles is certainly something to watch out for in late winter and spring and if you are woken by vibrating radiators, you know where to look first.


richardpeeej said:

Perhaps the woodpecker was the cause of your heating failure Miranda. The vibrations may have dislodged the debris from the inside of the pipes and it washed down and caused a blockage. Next time you see him hammering on the top of the  telegraph pole shout and say 'Hey Bird-You owe me!'

on 21 Feb 2010 at 01:17 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

It would be great if we could blame the woodpecker, Richard! I think, though, it was the non-maintenance of the system for 20 years by the previous people who lived here.

on 22 Feb 2010 at 10:34 AM

Digger said:

Wow I've never seen a real woodpecker before, they say one lives in the woods across from our house, i may have heard one banging the trees once? what's that thing on top of your telegraph pole?

on 23 Feb 2010 at 01:37 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

If you hang a peanut feeder near the house, the woodpeckers will soon find it, Digger.

That metal cap? Looks rather fine, doesn't it. All the telegraph poles on that road had them, but I can't think why except maybe they're supposed to protect the top of the pole.

on 24 Feb 2010 at 11:09 AM