Woodpeckers are perhaps one of the craziest yet most wonderful birds on the planet. There are more than 180 species of woodpeckers worldwide; they are commonly coloured black, white, red and yellow; and they live for between 4 and 11 years… Okay perhaps those facts aren’t particularly interesting, but something that is interesting is that they bang their heads an astonishing 12,000 times a day – at an average rate of 20 times per second!
They decelerate instantly as they slam into the tree, meaning they experience anywhere up to 1200 G’s in force. To put that into some perspective for you, most humans lose consciousness at just under 5 g’s.
How then, I hear you ask, do they not fly off like a drunk stumbling out of a pub– with double vision whilst projectile vomiting? Well firstly, they have built-in cranial shock absorbers which reduces the astronomical forces their tiny little brains have to deal with.
Not only do they have these absorbers, but they also have another ingenious mechanical feature that helps render them headache-free after a heavy day head-banging. Within their skull, their tongue raps all the way around their brain, and attaches to the inside of their top beak. This, accompanied with the hyoid bone that the tongue is attached, acts as further casing for the brain.
The tongue itself can be anywhere up to 4 inches long depending on the species – which is pretty long considering the relatively small size of the woodpecker. In addition to the length, many species of woodpeckers have barbed tongues allowing them to extract the bugs from the holes they’ve just tirelessly created.
So the brain is accounted for when the woodpecker is unrelentingly slamming it’s face into a tree, but what stops it’s eyes from flying straight out from it’s skull in a kind of Tom and Jerry style cartoon skit?Well they also have an extra set of ridiculously strong eyelids that stop this from happening. These extra eyelids, known as the nictitating membrane, close shut under the regular eyelids just moments before the woodpecker makes contact with the wood, keeping their eyes firmly placed.