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Untamed Montana: Woodpeckers making a return

Posted at 9:50 AM, May 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-06 11:51:41-04

MISSOULA — This time of year -- especially when we are all spending so much time at home due to COVID-19 -- you may begin to hear a familiar sound outside your window.

Woodpeckers are out and about once again and it’s a wonder that they never get headaches. After all, they spend most of the day hammering holes in trees with 10 times the force needed to knock out a human.

All this headbanging has a purpose to find food, to create a safe place to nest and raise young, and to communicate with other woodpeckers. They have several adaptations to allow their bodies to deal with the shock of hitting such a hard substance so fast.

The tongue of a woodpecker is so long it has to wrap around inside the skull and cushions the brain against the impact of pecking. The tongue also has a barbed tip that allows it to extract bugs from the holes it creates.

Woodpeckers hammer trees 20 times a second at a speed of 15 mph when pecking a third inner eyelid closes a millisecond before impact to shield the eye from flying splinters.

Hopefully, these facts are interesting enough to distract you from the noise. As we head into summer, you’ll begin hearing these birds more and more.