Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | August 5, 2015

Who Made These Holes?

Cedar Tree Holes

Cedar Tree Holes (front)

Cedar Tree Holes

Cedar Tree Holes (back)

Here are two pictures of four different holes in the same cedar tree. I came across these intriguing holes while hiking through the Gerstacker Nature Preserve in Michigan’s eastern Upper Peninsula.

Typically cedars are quite resistant to insects, so usually there’s no reason for animals to dig holes in cedar trees to get insects. So what made these holes?

It was not a human.

It was not a porcupine, raccoon, squirrel, weasel, or wildcat, although some of these animals sometimes use these holes for shelter. So what made these holes?

The pictures show two holes on the “front” of the tree and two on the “back” of the tree. Multiple holes are typical for these animals, as they like to have more than one entrance and exit for their homes.

The first picture has a hand against the tree for scale. In the second picture, notice the pile of wood chips the animal dropped at the bottom of the tree as it opened up a cavity for its home.

What animal made these holes in the cedar tree?

These holes were made by a large black and white bird about the size of a crow that lives deep in forests throughout Michigan. The birds are infrequently seen, but these elongated rectangular holes are characteristic and indicate their presence.

Both males and females of these birds sport a bright red Mohawk like the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker.

What large bird made these holes?

. . .

The bird is the Pileated Woodpecker (pie-lee-ay-tid), Hylatomus pileatus. It is North America’s largest woodpecker.

Pileated woodpeckers often chip out holes like these searching for insects; they can eat 2,000 bugs per day. But since these holes were in a cedar tree, it’s likely they were for a homestead.

Male Pileated Woodpecker Drills Nest Hole

Male Pileated Woodpecker
Drills Nest Hole

The male drills the nest holes which attact a mate. Pileateds only use a hole for one season to raise a brood of three to five chicks. They lay the eggs in April and incubate for 12-16 days. The chicks fledge within a month.

The next year the male pileateds make new holes. This is why the hole was empty when I found it in early July. Because of the freshness of the chips and the lack of weathering of the edges of the holes, I think the holes were made this past spring and then abandoned after the chicks fledged.

Abandoned holes are later used by many other animals including owls, bats, tree-nesting ducks, squirrels, and raccoons.

This All About Birds site has sound clips of pileated woodpecker calls and drilling on trees.

Did you ever wonder why woodpeckers don’t get headaches? Why doesn’t their rapid drilling turn their brains to applesauce? Why don’t their eyeballs pop out when they slam their heads against hard wood?

The Creator provided a shock-absorbing cushion in the pileated’s head. A thick band of muscle absorbs the repeated shocks of the bill pounding a tree.

Eyelids automatically snap shut as the beak slams into the tree to keep eyeballs from popping out of the bird’s head and to keep dust and chips out of the eyes.

Why don’t wood chips, splinters, and sawdust clog the woodpecker’s breathing as it drills holes? Again the Creator provided for this by giving the bird little tufts of feathers to cover its nostrils.

Pileated Woodpecker

Male Pileated Woodpecker

Bugs skedaddle at the sound of the woodpecker’s drill. So how does the bird get its food? The Creator’s ingenious gift to the bird was a specially equipped long tongue. The tongue has barbs to stab bugs and a sticky glue to trap them. A special enzyme dissolves the glue to release the captured bugs into the bird’s mouth for ingestion.

The average adult pileated woodpecker is 16 inches long. That is a handbreadth taller than a 2-liter soda pop bottle. The bird has a six-inch tongue to reach insects inside the holes it drills in trees. If it were proportional, a six foot man would have a tongue over two feet long.

What would you do with a two-foot-long tongue? It wouldn’t fit in your mouth, so you’d have to tuck it into your shirt or wrap it around your neck, and then your tongue and mouth would dry out, and you’d likely often bite your tongue. Moreover your speech would be totally unintelligible!

What about the bird? What does it do with its very long tongue? Does it flop around as the bird flies? Does the tongue sometimes get caught in branches and hang the bird?

Again the Creator had an ingenious solution. When not in use, the pileated stores its six-inch long tongue in a muscular sheath that wraps around its skull into its right nostril.

Pileated Woodpeckers Mated Pair

Mated Pair of Pileated Woodpeckers

In this picture of a mated pair of pileated woodpeckers, the male is on the left. He can be distinguished from the female by his red crest that goes all the way down to his beak and by the extra red stripe along his chin. The female’s crest is only on the top of her head, and she does not have the red stripe.

The pileated woodpecker gets its food by banging its head against trees. In order to be successful and survive, all these special functions and equipment have to be in place and operational. They can’t gradually develop. The bird needs a thick skull, a strong beak, and a thick cushion of shock-absorbing muscle between them.

It needs a long sticky barbed tongue, stiff tail feathers and reverse (backward-facing) toes to act as stabilizing braces as it drills into wood while perched vertically on trees. It needs a finely tuned nervous system to coordinate the action of all these parts.

Could the Pileated Woodpecker have arisen through evolution? Certainly not! If any of these parts or functions were missing, the pileated could not survive. For example, suppose the thick skull or shock-absorbing muscle were missing. After a few whacks on a tree, the bird’s brain is applesauce, and it’s dead on the ground.

The Pileated Woodpecker glorifies its Creator by doing very well what it was well-designed and well-equipped to do.

Questions to Ponder
  1. What was your first guess as to what made the holes in the cedar tree?
  2. What other birds glorify their Creator through special design features?
  3. Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:4)
Wednesday August 5, 2015 A.D.

But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you;
And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.
Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you;
And let the fish of the sea declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
That the hand of the LORD has done this,
In whose hand is the life of every living thing,
And the breath of all mankind?
(Job 12:7-10)

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