Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Appalachia: Breaks Interstate Park and vicinity, far western Virginia

May 15, 7:00 a.m.

Sunrise at 6:19 a.m.

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A pileated woodpecker drumming, with seven drums over two and a half minutes, for a fairly typical pace. How sharp and ear-splitting these drums are--there's nothing soft and spongy about the substrate that this woodpecker has chosen. Ear-splitting, so loud, so sharp, it's hard to imagine slamming one's head into a tree like this, once every few hundredths of a second, 36 times over 2.3 seconds, as in the first drum.

His first four drums are of a consistent quality, as he must be hammering away at precisely the same point throughout these four drums. But in the fifth drum he seems to experiment, changing the attack just a little, and the resulting resonance is higher, producing a distinctly different pitch. In the sixth drum he's a bit tentative, as if searching for the old place again, and he seems to find it for the rest of that drum and the seventh drum as well.

It's a tough job these woodpeckers have, slamming their heads into hard wooden walls like this. Our human brains certainly would never survive such a thrashing.


American crow, wood thrush, red-eyed vireo, ovenbird, American redstart


Photo by John Van de Graaff