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I recently (March 26th, 2022) recorded a woodpecker in the woods around Habo Ljunga, Lomma, Skåne, Sweden and that gave me an idea. While cutting the audio, I noticed that the woodpecker's sound seems to have two moments (see waveform below): a main one (gray) and a trailing one (light blue).

Does anyone know why the sound trails off? I made several recordings and at least my subject woodpecker consistently features these two moments. If helpful, here is the original video showing the movement of the woodpecker.

Woodpecker's sound waveform

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    $\begingroup$ It might be helpful to include more information about the species of woodpecker (if known), where it was recorded, and when. $\endgroup$
    – tyersome
    Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 0:12
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    $\begingroup$ Not sure this woodpecker is cutting. I think it is more likely signalling to it's potential mates and/or rivals. $\endgroup$
    – user69929
    Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 6:23
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    $\begingroup$ @user1202136 I think your date is wrong, as today is April 24, 2022. At any rate, I have also heard this pattern in the US, but I don't know which species. The signaling hypothesis is interesting, as I've also heard woodpeckers tapping at a constant rate, and then stopping without trailing off. $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know anything about woodpecker cutting so hopefully someone more knowledgeable will answer...but could it just be that a woodpecker can't go from full speed to stopped instantly? It needs a little "slow down" time, where it stops full-force cutting and needs to oscillate a bit after to fully stop? $\endgroup$
    – selene
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ Comments are ephemeral and often overlooked, so in the future please edit your post to update it rather than tacking on comments. Please also clarify what you mean by "cutting" — several commenters seem to think you are talking about what the woodpecker is doing (usually referred to as pecking, drilling, drumming, or hammering), but I assumed it was something to do with your processing of the sound file. ——— Also, I strongly suspect that @selene is correct, but don't have time to properly research this myself. $\endgroup$
    – tyersome
    Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 1:15

2 Answers 2

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in the UK we have two species of woodpecker that use drumming for communication. One of these - the greater spotted woodpecker - tails off at the end of the sequence as it gradually slows and eases pressure. The other species - lesser spotted woodpecker - stops much more abruptly, without this tailing off. The difference between the two patterns allows you to determine which species you are listening to.

For examples of each, you can check out XenoCanto recordings here:
Greater: https://xeno-canto.org/719629
Lesser: https://xeno-canto.org/722816

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  • $\begingroup$ Such a cool answer! $\endgroup$ Commented May 26, 2022 at 13:46
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This isn't cutting, but rather part of their acoustic signaling behavior called drumming. This communication evolved from the foraging behavior of these birds. When foraging, the birds make less predictable patterns of striking their beaks against the tree when they locate insects from non-hollow trees. Over time, this evolved into an acoustic strategy by which males drum on hollow trees with predictable rhythms for territorial defense and mate advertisement. The drumming for communication is more rapid and precisely patterned compared to the drumming used during foraging. This reduction in amplitude towards the terminal part of their drumming, or the "trailing off" as you describe, has been documented for woodpeckers (see Budka et al., 2018 PLOS One) but hasn't been explicitly described. What's interesting is the duration of the "rolls" in a drumming can often be individual-specific (again, see Budka et al., 2018), suggesting that each bird might have its own set duration of how long it drums for.

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