April 25, 2009

Why Woodpeckers Have Red Spots

Cute red feathers, or ancient bloody marking?

As I was walking home this afternoon, I heard a loud tapping noise. "Tap tap tap tap tap!" I hear woodpeckers all the time, but this was the fastest and most frantic woodpecking I think I've heard. Maybe the warm weather today was driving the woodpecker into a frenzy!

Like all the woodpeckers I see in Boston, this one had a red spot on the back of his neck. Evolutionary science would tell us the red spot developed as a random mutation that possibly survived because it gave the woodpeckers who had it an advantage over those that didn't.

Algonquian folklore provides another explanation, however. I've already mentioned Glooskap before on this blog. During one of his adventures, he battled a giant monster who was making the water stagnant and undrinkable for the local humans. The monster was only vulnerable in one spot, and Glooskap didn't know where to strike. Luckily, a woodpecker showed him the monster's weak point, and Glooskap killed it with an arrow. He then marked the woodpecker's head with monster blood to thank it for its help. This story puts those cute little birds in a different light!

I found one version of the story here, but I think I've read it other places as well.


Anonymous said...

My son and I just spent a happy half hour watching a woodpecker just like this work away on our flowering crab tree. I don't know much about birds, but he was a comical fellow & we came straight in to learn some more about him! Thanks for your photo!

Happy in Indiana

Rich Clabaugh said...

Thanks for another great taste of Native American lore!