How Do Woodpeckers Not Peck Themselves Silly?

The next time someone attempts to humor you with one of their shy did the chicken cross the road jokes, raise them a better one. Ask them how the woodpecker managed to not suffer a concussion after pecking a hole into that tree that took you an hour to saw a branch off. Now watch them drift into deep thought as they ponder over how that’s possible. Rally though, just what is it that allows these birds to drive their bills into hard wood, foraging for food and drilling up nesting hollows and not getting very badly shaken up at the very least? If you’ve ever so much as tried hammering a nail into a tree for whatever reason, you’ll know how hard the wood is. Yet these funny little birds manage to do this on a daily basis without damaging their beaks or anything. Woodpeckers feed off of sap and insects in a tree’s bark and can peck at speeds of 15mph. These birds have strong neck muscles and two forward and two backward facing claws to help them latch onto a tree’s bark, distributing the force of the impact and keeping the bird in place for more accurate pecking. A woodpecker faces great resistance each time its beak collides with the tree’s bark. Typically a woodpecker would face a deceleration of 600-1500 g with each peck. And pecks are just 0.5-1 milliseconds apart. That’s a lot of really fast pecking. This doesn’t seem like much up till the point where you find out that we human beings suffer brain injury at just 100g of impact deceleration. So what is it that prevents these funny little birds from suffering the same serious brain injuries upon impact? Well the answer lies I the way a woodpecker’s head is structured. There’s a layer of foam between the skull and the brain, this foam absorbs the shock of the impact and keeps the bird’s brain safe and sound. Besides these birds don’t need too large a brain anyways, so they size of their brain is fairly small. This means less volume and therefore a lesser likelihood of it wiggling about in the skull. This is why woodpeckers don’t suffer concussions from what they do all the time to earn their name. Otherwise you’ll see a lot of dead woodpeckers lying around tree trunks, now that’d be just weird, right? Nowadays, science has found a way to explain almost anything. And those things that we still can’t explain, well we have teams on teams of very skilled scientists working on finding answers through many experiments as you read this. We discover so many new things each day.

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