Thomas Nuttall was an English naturalist who spent many years in the U.S. collecting specimens; this woodpecker was named after him by William Gambel (after which a quail is named.)
The Nuttall’s Woodpecker is small , a little more than seven inches long. Like most woodpeckers, it is mostly black and white; it has a series of bars across its back and wings, and a black tail. The male has a red patch on his head. The nine inch Acorn Woodpecker is larger with a black back, the six and a half inch Downy Woodpecker has a white stripe on its back and the eight and a half inch Red-breasted Sapsucker has a white stripe on the wing.
The Nuttall’s Woodpecker is restricted to California and northern Mexico west of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges. They can be found wherever oak trees are found, but they do not eat acorns, preferring fruits, berries, and insects, especially adult and larval beetles. They work their way carefully across trunks and branches searching crevices and under the bark, often hanging upside down as they forage, flaking and probing the bark rather than drilling.
All woodpeckers “drill” or peck at the bark of trees for three reasons: to make noise, called “drumming”, in order to declare their territory; to drill a hole for a nest; or to look for insects or sap to eat. They are able to hold onto the tree firmly while pecking because they have two toes forward and two toes back (most birds have three forward and one back), and their tail feathers are stiffened with a heavy quill. Woodpeckers also have bristle-like feathers covering their nostrils so that they do not breathe in wood chips while pecking. With a very flexible neck
Woodpeckers hammer their beaks into trees 18 to 22 times per second, at speeds of 13 to 15 miles per hour (21 to 25 kilometers per hour) about 12,000 times per day subjecting their brains to deceleration forces of 1200 g with each strike. How do they do that without beating their brains to a pulp? Woodpeckers have three mechanisms in their head to prevent jarring and injury. First, their skull consists of bones and spaces arranged in a spongelike pattern to absorb shocks. Second, their lower bill is elastic and bends slightly downward to deflect some of the energy. And third, the hyoid bone, actually several bones, wraps around the skull from the nostrils over the head and into the tongue. Not only does this give the bird the ability to stick their tongue out amazingly far, but the muscle-covered hyoid bone serves as sort of a seatbelt for the head, absorbing even more stress.
These adaptations are being studied for application to better human head protection, like better bike, motorcycle, football, and tank-driver helmets. Already a prototype bike helmet with a spongelike cardboard interior has been produced.
We learned how to fly from watching birds but there is so much else to learn.