One morning when we camped at Mammoth Cave, I heard a distinct knocking sound that could only emanated from a woodpecker. Pileated WoodpeckerI walked around looking for it, not really expecting to find it because of past experiences. I saw a black bird with a red crest but it was too big to be a woodpecker I figured. However, it was standing like a woodpecker, on the side of a tree with the head facing the tree. Soon, there was no doubt as it quickly pecked its beak into the tree trunk, producing the unique knocking sound. I was surprised as all the woodpeckers I have seen on the West have been small. This woodpecker was at least twice as big as any I had seen before.

I found out from a neighbor camper that it was a pileated woodpecker, one of the biggest woodpeckers in the world. It was beautiful with a pointing red crown. Woodpeckers on the groundSoon it flew away from the tree trunk and was joined by another one. They poked around on the forest floor, probably looking for some deadwood or insects. Eventually they flew away together. Graceful flyers they were too.

I am always fascinated by woodpeckers. I always wonder why they didn’t get headaches from all their hammerings on trees. I read somewhere that it can strike a tree trunk at 20 times a second with a deceleration force of 1200 g with each impact. Just thinking about it is giving me a headache. The woodpecker species has a unique suspension in the head structure to absorb the force of each stroke. There are many natural features that are unparalleled and we can only marvel at their ingenuity. We were able to duplicate some but fail to replicate many. Nature is constantly teaching us lessons and we need to open our mind and heart to observe and to discover. We need a woodpecker helmet for bikers, football players, snowboarders, etc.