Birders are used to listening for unusual sounds, and the different squeaks, trills, screeches, coos, whistles, chitters, and chirps of birds are useful for finding and identifying all sorts of species. But birders also need to be alert to other noises when they’re in the field, forest, or swamp, such as alarms that may signal a predator, mechanical noises of approaching traffic near roadways, rumbles that may indicate bad weather on the way, or even… Gunfire?
Of course, a birder might hear a shot or two at the end of fall migration when hunting season has begun, or if they happen to be birding near a hunting club or gun club where members might be practicing. But the ringing tones of automatic weapons fire are something entirely different, and while it’s important to always stay safe when birding, it might not actually be a gun at all.
Woodpeckers love to drum on loud, resonant objects. Their staccato patterns broadcast health, strength, and virility to alert other birds that the territory has been claimed or that they’re ready for a mate. Most woodpeckers will drum on trees or logs, and when those trees or logs are hollow, they can create a strong, resonant booming. With more structures incorporating metal roofing, however, some woodpeckers – like this crafty great spotted woodpecker – are discovering that the even louder resonance and echoing nature of the metal makes for a great drumming surface. In addition to roofs, woodpeckers might take advantage of metal gutters and downspouts, metal siding, or even smaller items such as metal barrels or equipment.
I’ve personally witnessed red-bellied woodpeckers drumming on the vinyl siding of my house, northern flickers and downy woodpeckers pecking away at metal gutters, and Lewis’s woodpeckers and acorn woodpeckers with a fondness for transformer boxes on electrical poles. All the sounds are different, but all are interesting, and all make me smile!