Sunday, June 16, 2013

Zygodactyl-Footed Destroyers

By Julie Rahm

Woodpeckers are categorized in the family Picidae. They are found worldwide, except for Australia, New Zealand, Madagascar, and the polar regions. Most species live in woodland habitats.  However, some live in rocky hillsides and deserts. There are about 200 species of woodpeckers. The smallest woodpecker is the Bar-breasted Piculet at 0.2 ounces and 3.25 inches. The largest woodpecker is the Imperial Woodpecker at 23 inches and 1.3 pounds.
Woodpeckers have strong beaks for drilling trees and long sticky tongues for extracting food. The chisel-like tip of the beak is kept sharp by pecking on wood. Species of woodpecker and flicker that use their beaks in soil or for probing, as opposed to regular hammering, tend to have longer and more curved beaks. Many of the foraging, breeding and signaling behaviors of woodpeckers involve drumming and hammering using the beak. To prevent brain damage from the rapid and repeated impacts, woodpeckers have evolved a number of adaptations to protect their brains. Adaptations include a small brain size, the orientation of the brain within the skull (which maximizes the area of contact between the brain and the skull) and the short duration of contact. The millisecond before contact with wood a thickened nictitating membrane closes, protecting the eye from flying debris. The nostrils are also protected. They are often slit-like and have special feathers to cover them.
Woodpeckers possess zygodactyl feet. Zygodactyl feet consist of four toes, the first and the fourth facing backward with the second and third facing forward. This foot arrangement is good for grasping the limbs and trunks of trees. Woodpeckers can walk vertically up a tree trunk. This important skill is beneficial for foraging and nest excavation. In addition to the strong claws and feet, woodpeckers have short, strong legs. This is typical of birds that regularly forage on trunks. Also, the tails of all woodpeckers are stiffened. Woodpeckers are better able to perch on vertical surfaces because their tail provides support.
One spring, my husband John battled a woodpecker. The house had cedar siding. Evidently, the cedar siding was dessert to this woodpecker. Despite rubber snakes, plastic owls and pepper wash, this woodpecker got the best of my husband. The drumming on the rain gutters mostly occurred on weekend mornings when we tried to sleep in. The hammering sound was deafening! Defeated, my husband surrendered and resorted to just repairing the siding every two weeks. Eventually, the woodpecker got its fill of our cedar siding and moved on. So, the obvious theme of this week’s metaphor is woodpeckers.
John says, “Pet woodpeckers on wooden boats are a bad idea.” Who are the “woodpeckers” on the “wooden boat” of your life? Do your family members peck at you? Perhaps a friend is no longer supportive. How would characterize your relationships at home and at work? Maybe it is time to remove the woodpecker from your boat and put it ashore! Want a strategy for doing so? Contact me online at 

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