Nearly every day yields something valuable, but only if I get myself out there and immerse myself in the glory. I also never know what I’m going to find, even when I have a goal in mind. I have discovered that more often than not, my ultimate “catch” is not at all what I had expected. And here is a case in point:

Yesterday, I rose before dawn and headed to a favorite spot in hopes of videotaping a Brown Thrasher in full song. Several were singing the day before, so this was a reasonable expectation. But to my dismay, the thrashers were completely silent, so I just walked around somewhat aimlessly, enjoying the scenery and looking for other opportunities. Nothing materialized, so I headed back to my car, feeling some measure of disappointment. “Oh well,” I remember thinking … “I’ll have better luck on another day.”

And that’s when I heard the woodpecker drumming, a short distance down the dirt road from where I’d parked my car. I scurried toward the soundmaker, lugging my video gear along with me. It took me awhile to spot him, but I finally spied the drummer on a dead stub perhaps thirty feet up. It was a male Downy Woodpecker, seemingly quite intent upon getting his sound into the air.

I happily began videotaping and got about a minute of his action before he scooted off to a different perch, in a forest patch at the bottom of a hill. I ran after him, but stumbled on a fallen limb and fell flat on my face. Luckily, my body and my gear were both unharmed. So I pulled myself up and continued my pursuit, moving a bit more cautiously than before.

The second perch turned out to be prettier than the first, a dead and hollow limb that was yielding amazingly good sound, at least to my ear (I’ll bet the Downy really appreciates that perch and the resonant drums he is able to produce there). The drummer put on quite a show, staying on that single perch for nearly fifteen minutes! First he was in the shade, but light eventually arrived, allowing me to get a wonderful sequence of drums.

Although I documented a drumming male Downy, be aware that both sexes drum. In fact, members of a pair sometimes drum back-and-forth, a phenomenon referred to as “duet drumming.”

As you probably know, the drumroll of woodpeckers is a communication signal, functioning much like song in songbirds. Drums are thought to help define the territory, attract a mate, and maintain the pair bond. Woodpeckers, however, don’t drum with “functions in mind”. They drum because it feels good to drum (well, why not?). They are programmed to do it and their pleasure systems no doubt come into play, providing drummers with feel-good juices (hormones) that accompany the making of the music.

4702-1In closing, I want to sing praise for woodpecker drums of all sorts … such splendid percussive expressions that echo across the landscape, enlivening nature’s orchestra and pleasing the receptive ear.

Let me know what you think of this video by leaving your comment below … rest assured that I am truly interested in hearing from you!

p.s. Near the beginning, listen for the uneven drum of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the distance.

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