How does a woodpecker avoid concussion?

A woodpecker pecks a tree at a speed of seven metres per second, which is 24 kilometres (15 miles) per hour.

A woodpecker can tap a tree up to 20 times per second in search of insects, to establish its territory or to create a new nest area. It is remarkable that woodpeckers can repeatedly beat their heads against trees at such speed without getting hurt, and the secret to their success is in the skull.

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The woodpecker’s body has evolved to absorb the force of impact with a unique bone that is anchored to its strong beak. This bone wraps around the entire skull and holds the brain firmly in place, stopping it from becoming damaged. The high impact zones at the front and back of the skull have tiny collections of bones that form a spongy mesh. This cushioning is distributed unevenly so that there is more protection at the areas that need it most. Woodpeckers also have thick neck muscles designed to absorb some of the impact to prevent concussion. To prevent their eyes from popping out of their skull under the force, they have a third eye lid to keep them firmly in place!

It’s also thought their beaks can be slightly deformed through the vigorous pecking but this is necessarily a bad thing. It allows some of the force to be absorbed by the beak rather than the brain, protecting the bird in the long-term.

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A woodpecker’s skull is surrounded by thick bone for protection.

 

 

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