Basic Science

Why don’t Woodpeckers hurt their heads while pecking on wood?

A woodpecker is a type of bird and there are different kinds of woodpeckers all over the world. They get their names because they all like to peck at things like trees. Most woodpeckers are black and white with some patches of red and yellow. But if there’s a woodpecker nearby, you can usually hear them before you see them. Woodpeckers make loud calling noises that sound almost like a monkey and they tap on trees with their beaks. To help them chip away at the tough wood in a tree, their beaks are long, strong and hard. And when they peck, they move their heads back and forth really fast – so fast that it can sound almost like someone playing a drum set.

Why do Woodpeckers Peck?

But why do they do this?

Woodpeckers will peck through trees to mark their territory or to build nests for themselves. But mostly it is for food.

No. No. They aren’t eating the wood. But they are pecking away at it to get a tasty meal. They’re looking for something else inside the tree to eat.

When a woodpecker begins to peck at a tree, they move little chips of wood out of the way digging a hole until they find what they’re looking for. Like a tasty grub. A grub is a baby beetle and some of these little insects like to live inside the trees while they’re growing up. Some of thus grubs dig little tunnels through trees as they get bigger.

So if a woodpecker wants to eat those grubs, first, they have to use their beaks to peck away at the tree, making a hole that reaches the grub tunnel. Then the woodpecker uses its tongue like a spear to reach into the tunnel and pull out the grub inside with its tongue.

Woodpeckers have super long tongues, like three times the length of its beak, so even if the insect is on the other side of the tunnel the woodpecker can still reach it. It’s lot of work to peck through the tree, but they get a tasty snack in the end.

Where Does a Woodpecker Keep Its Long Tongue?

But considering the length of its tongue, where do they keep it when it’s not being used.

The answer lies, in the skeletal structure of their head. The base of the tongue is attached to the right nostril. There’s a bony support inside the birds tongue called the hyoid. We have a hyoid bone too, but underneath our tongue. However in a woodpecker the tongue, with the hyoid inside it, starts out from between its eyes, all the way around its skull and darts out of its mouth to catch prey.

How Woodpeckers can hammer without getting headaches?

But doesn’t it hurt the woodpecker to continuously hit its beak against the tree ? Don’t hey get a headache? And if they did, what would they see flying around their head?

Don’t worry. Woodpeckers don’t hurt themselves when they peck at a tree. Even when they hit it really hard.

Wood is a very hard substance. This is why they use it to build houses and furniture. If you’ve tried hacking at a tree with an axe, you would know how much force it takes. Now imagine doing the same with your face. That’s what it’s like to be a woodpecker. They peck at a tree so rapidly and with a massive force that is equivalent to running head first into a tree at fill speed.

The skull is the group of bones inside the woodpeckers head, just like the skull we have inside our heads. The human skull is surprisingly strong and flexible but the delicate chunk of meat, that is the brain, inside it is more like a blob of jello floating in a liquid. That is why when we hit our head lightly against a hard substance we get a headache. Imagine if we were to rapidly hit at wood or any other hard object. Our brain would bang against our skull and give us a concussion gradually leading up to a permanent brain damage.

Woodpeckers, on the other hand, are built for head banging. You see, woodpeckers have a special skull that keeps them safe.

Woodpeckers skulls are very strong and thick. Just like a helmet keeps your head safe when you ride a bike, a woodpeckers skull keeps them safe when they’re pecking at a tree. It acts like a seatbelt, absorbing all the shocks.

Woodpeckers even have special eye-lids that close shut just before impact.

Just in case the woodpecker needs any extra padding, they also have some extra squishier bone that wraps around their skull from the back. The bone goes all the way from the back of their tongue, up and over their skull to where their nose is. Maybe if our bones did that, we could rapidly peck through a block of wood as well.

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Nerine Tina Fernandes

My name is Nerine Tina Fernandes and I am from the beautiful state of Goa. I've loved to read ever since I was a child. And off late, I've been trying to write as well. My goal in life is simple - be happy and keep others around you happy. Thank you for taking the time to view my e-portfolio.

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