Woodpecker Tongue

"Hey, red-bellied woodpecker, pull my finger!"
Here's a female red-bellied woodpecker that came into the nets at Carpenter Nature Center. And for those who doubt that these birds actually have red on their bellies, here's proof:

Back in the early days of exploration on this continent, explorers did not have access to binoculars and spotting scopes. The best way to identify birds was to shoot them and look at carcasses up close. So, if a red-bellied woodpecker is in your hand and about five inches from your face, you can see a hint of red on the belly, hence the name: red-bellied woodpecker.

One of the things I enjoy about banding is that it's a way to see birds up close and see the features that bird books talk about. Check out the tongue on the red-belly. The tip is hard like a spear with little barbs that are used to spear and grab onto larvae found inside dead and dying trees. As a matter of fact, when woodpeckers are in nets you have to be careful that the nets don't get caught on the barbs of the tongue and hurt the bird. Another fun detail that I learned is that red-bellies have deep brown eyes.

Another freaky feature of woodpeckers is that they have very long tongues that can stretch out quite a bit. Woodpecker tongue muscles start on the top of their heads (I read once that if a woodpecker has something on its mind, it generally its tongue). This feature helps them to really gain access to larvae deep into tree bark.

Don't forget that if you've never visited Carpenter, next week (May 6) is a great time because the Raptor Center will be releasing birds of prey that have recovered in their clinic. Education birds will be on display and there will be fun activities planned. I also will be selling binoculars there on behalf of TRC, so if you need some binoculars that would be a great time to pick some up and help out a great organization.