Can you imagine what it would feel like to be punched by a professional boxer?
Or to be hit by a bowling ball travelling 20 miles per hour? Ouch!
Now imagine a force more than 20 times greater!
Believe it or not, that's how hard woodpeckers drive their heads against trees.
Woodpeckers hammer and drill on trees to find food, build nests, and to communicate with other woodpeckers. They've been equipped with some amazing adaptations to allow them to do this!
If a person were to smack his head against a tree with the speed and force of a woodpecker, he would no doubt suffer severe brain damage - that is, if he lived to tell about it.
So how can woodpeckers drill holes in trees without knocking themselves silly?
- A woodpecker's brain is packed very tightly into its skull, surrounded by specialized spongy bones that protect it.
- And, because there's almost no space between the brain and the skull, the woodpecker's brain can't rattle around on impact.
- The woodpecker's sling-like tongue, which actually coils once around its brain before anchoring to the skull, may also help to reduce the shock of hammering.
A Pain in the Neck
- A woodpecker also has very strong muscles in its head and neck.
- These keep the bird's head and body lined up.
- If you watched a slow-motion video of a woodpecker hammering, you'd see its head and body staying in a perfectly straight line, with the bill hitting the tree straight on every time.
Don't Try This at Home!
Banging your head on a tree might seem like a pretty simple - or simple-minded - thing to do. But the next time you see a woodpecker in action, you'll know just how remarkable it really is!
Illustration by Michael Slack