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Posts Tagged ‘woodpecker tongue’

Did you know that woodpeckers have tongues? They use their long sticky tongues to probe the holes they peck for grubs or other small insects. Last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I observed a Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) pecking away feverishly and was delighted when reviewing my photos to see that I had gotten some shots of its tongue at work. You can see the tongue clearly in the first photo below, though you may need to zoom in to do so.

As I was doing a little research, I came across a fascinating article by Rebecca Heisman on the American Bird Conservancy website entitled “The Amazing Secrets of Woodpecker Tongues.” The article explained the anatomy and function of a woodpecker’s tongue in a way that was both understandable and fun. For example, when talking about the length of a woodpecker’s tongue, it stated:

“The total length of a woodpecker tongue can be up to a third of the bird’s total body length, although the exact proportions vary from species to species. This includes both the part that sticks out past the end of the beak, and the part that stays anchored in the head. If our tongues were the same proportion, they would be around two feet long!”

So where does the tongue go when it is not in use? The tongue is retracted behind the skull and helps to protect the woodpecker’s brain when it is hammering away at a tree. Wow!

There are so many cool things to learn about nature—I often feel like I am only beginning to scratch the surface of a whole range of secrets that are waiting to be revealed to me as I explore more and more.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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