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When I got my copy of the new “Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America,” I tracked down the author’s email address at once, and sent him a message: “I’m mad for woodpeckers,” I wrote, and Stephen Shunk wrote back: “Mad for woodpeckers is a very good thing.”

I suspect if you are not already, that by the end of this story and podcast, you’ll be mad for them, too, and positively amazed at their physical capabilities and their critical role in our ecosystems. Until I read his author bio, I felt lucky to live with six hardworking and highly entertaining woodpecker species here in my rural Northeastern garden. But Stephen, a longtime conservationist who also leads international bird tours lives across the continent, on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Bend, Oregon, in a spot that’s home to 11 breeding species. Jealous!

I welcomed Stephen Shunk to my weekly public-radio show and podcast in June 2016 to talk woodpeckers. Learn why most species are mainly black and white, and how they have evolved their anatomies to withstand all that hammering (which has been researched for insights to design football helmets, for instance).

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