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Woodpecker-People: A Keystone Forest Species

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In the taxonomic family Picidae, there are more than 230 species of woodpeckers, and you can find at least nine of them in Guyana. I guess it’s self-evident that our name comes from what we do, but have you ever wondered why we peck wood? There are several reasons. One is that our sensitive hearing can detect the presence of harmful insects inside the trunks of trees. Our mission is to remove them through pecking. We have a reputation for being hard workers as we spend our whole life benefiting the woodland environment.

The hues and patterns of each species’ plumage depend on their local environment. The predominant colors are olive and gray, which provide camouflage and minimize troublesome encounters. But bright accents of red and white are also common. For example, acorn woodpecker-people sport those vibrant colors, and if you spot one while exploring nature, it will surely make you smile.

Our vocalizations tend to be high-pitched and brief. They include trills, twitters, whistles, and occasional screaming. This form of communication is used during courtship, territorial disagreements, and to convey warnings. On the other hand, our drumming skills are outstanding. We create percussive music by repeatedly striking our bill on hard surfaces such as hollow trunks, chimneys, gutters, and downspouts. Each woodpecker species performs a different pattern of drum rolls and pauses in a distinctive cadence.

Of course, our most essential appendage is our beak. It serves as a chisel, a percussion mallet, and our mouth! Researchers have calculated that we use a thousand times the force of gravity while pecking, yet our brain is unaffected. By comparison, humans cannot withstand even a tenth of that.

Ecologists refer to us as a “keystone species.” You probably already know that, in general, bird-people are agents of diversity through the seeds they help spread. But in woodland ecosystems, we woodpecker-folk play significant additional roles. When we need a nest for our new brood, we excavate a sizable hole in a suitable tree. After living there for a season, we typically move out, and the space becomes available to other forest dwellers. Then there’s another level of responsibility that may surprise you. In other words, our activity accelerates the decay of older forest growth, aiding the development of young trees and the sustainability of the environment.
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