“His bill an auger is…”

” His Bill an auger is

His Head, a Cap and Frill

He laboreth at every Tree

A Worm, His utmost Goal

~Emily Dickinson

You name a bird, Emily would have sung about it! Emily’s magic brings the woodpecker and places the bird right before your eyes!

The black rumped flameback woodpecker is the one that is commonly seen around my house in Kerala. That reminds me, I have never seen the bird sitting on a branch idly. They are always on their toes (seriously! They have zygodactil feet, with four toes, for strong grip) engrossed in the rhythmic carpentry work.

I learnt some interesting facts about these hardworking folks in vibrant armour and cap. (courtesy to outdoor revival.com). They are the only ones among birds that do not collect twigs and grass to build nests. They construct spacious wooden houses to dwell in and are said to be the proud owners of some luxurious homes. Woodpeckers drill out chambers and are primary cavity-nesting birds. They change their cavities often and this love for moving houses, make them good samaritans as the old homes are by default donated to other small birds and small animals like squirrels.

It is amazing to know that the woodpecker knocks at tree trunks around 12,000 times a day, an average of 100 times per minute! Nature has her way of protecting their little brains. A bone loops around the brain and that saves it from injuries when the powerful hammering happens. The upper and lower beaks are of different length, hence the impact of the hitting is evenly distributed. The woodpecker’s tail is strong and sturdy and acts as a third leg.

Woodpeckers have bristles in their nostrils to filter the dust! To protect the eyes from the debris that fly around while they chisel the wood, there is a third translucent eyelid that moves forth and back keeping the visibility in tact at the same time. Amazing are the ways of Mother Nature!

Woodpeckers are the drummers and not the singers among the birds. As they don’t have vocal cords, they tap on metal or wooden surfaces to communicate.They are monogamous, one mate for a lifetime.

Ted Hughes too has written about the Woodpecker, about its bouncing rubber brains and about the poor oak that cries in terrors and pains as the bird bangs on the wood! Dickinson being my favourite her Woodpecker is my favourite too!

And Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar are the three places where these drummers are not seen!

9 thoughts on ““His bill an auger is…”

  1. What beautiful watercolors of the bird, and such interesting facts! I was curious about the lack of vocal cords; perhaps your species is different from ours. The red-headed, red-bellied, and pileated all call to one another here. They’re not ‘songbirds,’ for sure, but they do make sounds. Here’s what the pileated sounds like. When I first arrived in this area, I had no idea which bird I was hearing — I never expected that it would be a woodpecker!

    One that lives farther west in the U.S. is the acorn woodpecker. That one not only eats acorns, it will store hundreds of them — even thousands! — in trees, with each little acorn in its own little hole. Talk about work — those are industrious birds. They need those auger-like bills!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Linda! My understanding is, woodpeckers do not have vocal cords. As syrinx is the avian vocal organ, birds are able to produce sounds. Watched the amazing video of the pileated woodpecker and you have got a point there. I haven’t come across any, other than the flamebacked. Will do more research. Am sure you’re aware that some of the song birds have two vocal cords that enable them sing two different notes simultaneously. That brings to my mind the Robins! Robin is one of the best song birds I have seen in this part of the world.

      I read about the acorn woodpecker. Very interesting to know about them and the ‘tree granaries’!
      Another fascinating fact I learnt is about the golden fronted woodpecker. During Summer they stain their face purple, devouring too much prickly pear cactus! Each species seems to have some unique characteristics.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed! So many variety and such interesting facts! Can you believe that some of them catch and store insects between the cracks of wood so that they won’t fly away; of course to snack on later!


  2. Three species of woodpecker regularly come to our feeders: downy, hairy, and red-bellied. When we had a rotting tree stump in the yard, a pileated would come and tear off large pieces of rotting wood and fling them across the yard, as if annoyed that they didn’t contain any bugs. It was great fun to watch.

    I’ve never heard of a black rumped flameback before. A magnificent bird, and your paintings are beautiful!


    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. All the three species that you mentioned look so pretty. Downy is the smallest among woodpeckers, aren’t they? Red- bellied and red-headed look very similar from pictures. I was reading that the redheaded woodpeckers have got some fascinating nicknames like ‘halfshirt’ ‘jellycoat’ ‘flying checker-board etc! Black rumped flamebacks are the ones commonly seen in India.Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Rethy,
    It was awesome to go through your blog about wood peckers…. I didn’t know so much interesting facts about this lovely bird, though In Kerala it’s a common sight…. Thank you so much for sharing!!

    Liked by 1 person

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