The loons are back. And two nights ago I heard the wolf pack singing down the moon. Our first tree swallow showed up -- he's a full 18 days earlier than expected.
Up on the hill today, walking to where the solar installation will be, I found a huge pileated woodpecker tree. The woodpeckers stay with us all winter long.
The size of the woodchips these birds bang out are quite impressive. Ever wonder why they don't just fall off the tree with a concussion? They are so well adapted to the task. With beaks that are so hard they rival iron, thick spongy skull bones and a rather small brain that floats in cerebral fluids rather than being encased in fluid, they are well set-up to transfer the shock of striking the tree away from the brain. In fact, woodpecker skulls get studied by the fine folks who build better helmets for you and I.
The woodpecker has a secret weapon, however. They possess very long tongues -- a necessary tool, since when you start knocking on the door, the insects in the wood don't come to open it up. Rather, they hightail it deeper into the tree, and the woodpecker has to fish them out with his long, sticky tongue. And it is Long. Some woodpeckers have tongues that are three times as long as their beaks. They are sticky, with a barb on the end much like a fish hook, to help out. That tongue, however, is too long to fit comfortably in the narrow neck of a woodpecker. What to do?
The birds solve the problem very neatly -- while adding an extra layer of shock absorption to their head banging activities. The tongue actually wraps over the top of the bird's skull, fastening into the eye socket. Which means that if a woodpecker has something on his mind, it is probably his tongue...