Woodpeckers are truly wonderful. They are some of our most loyal feeder visitors and always bring an entertaining array of activities and excitement to our backyards.
But you might also call them wondrous. This is due in no small part to their amazing assortment of adaptations which allow them to live a punishing existence that most other birds would probably think of as a life condemned to hard labor.
Consider the following:
While excavating a cavity, a woodpecker’s head can strike a tree’s surface at speeds up to 13 mph. The force of this impact (approximately 10G’s) would be enough to create brain damage in most other birds, and the human brain is three times more likely than a woodpecker’s to suffer a concussion at this speed. (Imagine running head-first into a tree at full speed!)
Some scientists have speculated that woodpeckers are able to survive this pounding due to numerous adaptations, including a skull structure that is unique to woodpeckers. The skull consists of lightweight, spongy, air-filled bone, and yet it is incredibly strong due to a reinforcing meshwork of bony support struts. More importantly, a woodpecker’s skull is also very small in relationship to the size of its brain. Thus, there is little room for the brain to rattle around and suffer damage during severe impacts.
So, with all of that pounding, why doesn’t a woodpecker’s bill wear down to a ragged nub? Wear down it does, but special cells on the end of the bill are constantly replacing the lost material. This keeps the chisel-pointed bill strong and resilient, while it actually self-sharpens with every blow.
With all this heavy hitting, woodpeckers are sure to create a lot of fast flying debris. To protect themselves they have evolved their own version of a dust mask and safety glasses. The dust mask consists of tufts of stiff feathers that grow over both nostrils to prevent small bits of wood from entering their nostrils and the safety glasses are in the form of a protective third eyelid that helps to prevent debris from entering their eyes while excavating.
Wonderful, wondrous and tough, too! How cool is that!
You can easily attract a variety of woodpeckers to your backyard with feeders filled with WBU suet, no-melt dough, Bark Butter products, shelled peanuts, TreeNutty® Plus Blend and our Woodpecker Cylinder. With any of these foods, you can get an up close and personal look at some of the coolest birds in the neighborhood. To learn more, listen to the latest Nature Centered Podcast episode: Wonderful Woodpeckers.