The fascinating woodpecker

This morning we came across a special sighting in the form of a Bennett’s Woodpecker, which reminded me about how unique and special these creatures are. Known for knocking tree trunks with their beak, these species actually do this for a number of reasons, namely to create a nesting site, to search for food and finally pecking in a rhythmic fashion to establish their territory and attract mates (this is particularly common with Bearded Woodpeckers) – but how do these woodpeckers not sustain injury in doing this?

They have a few unique adaptations to achieve this. They have a very thick spongy skull (much like the foam inside a helmet) which absorbs the impact of repeated drilling, along with their brain having a very tight fit which creates a unique permanent “crash helmet” for Woodpeckers. Their eyes are also protected by special membranes which prevent them from popping out their sockets while the bird is pounding away. These adaptations along with their double layered chisel-like beaks and extra strong neck muscles make drilling holes in wood a breeze. Woodpeckers also have extremely long tongues with recurviving barbs on the end for grabbing insects, making feeding a breeze. In certain species their tongues can be up to 3 times the length of their bill!

Some studies also found a protein in the brain of woodpeckers known as “TAU” which has also been found in humans who have experienced severe head trauma or brain injury and in patients who suffer from Alzheimers Disease. This begs the question if over time Woodpeckers might actually develop some sort of brain damage from all this pecking..? Another really interesting fact is that Woodpeckers average between 8000-12000 pecks a day! Woodpeckers truly are fascinating creatures which we are yet to fully understand.

Report by Andi