Pressured to spend their days slamming their tiny skulls into the perimeters of bushes searching for buried morsels, woodpeckers ought to have advanced a trick or two to keep away from mind harm. So that you’d suppose.


A brand new research on woodpecker biomechanics has forged doubt on speculations that the small chisel-headed chicken avoids turning its mind to mush via fancy shock-absorbing diversifications.

Moderately, its mind would possibly merely be too tiny for it to care.

“By analyzing high-speed movies of three species of woodpeckers, we discovered that woodpeckers don’t take in the shock of the impression with the tree,” says Sam Van Wassenbergh, a biomechanics researcher from the College of Antwerp in Belgium.

Anyone who has ever seen, and even simply heard, the machine-gun hearth of a woodpecker’s signature tapping would respect the physics concerned.

Snapping their heads backwards and forwards an astonishing 20 instances a second, members of some species can expertise forces of as much as 1400 g. Evaluate that with the paltry 90 to 100 g that may give a human concussion, and it is easy to think about the form of trauma that may come up inside that tiny cranium.

Previous analysis has pointed to a number of physique modifications that would assist reduce the impression on the woodpecker’s mind tissue, equivalent to spongy, shock-absorbing bones and neck muscle tissues.


Whereas these options seem like engineered to soak up a blow, proving that they efficiently cut back the forces because the woodpecker’s head accelerates and decelerates quickly is a problem.

There’s additionally the query of whether or not woodpeckers even trouble with security options within the first place. Their small brains and tight skulls depart little room for rattling about. 

On this research, utilizing greater than 100 high-speed movies of six woodpeckers representing the species Dryocopus martius, Dryocopus pileatus, and Dendrocopos main, Van Wassenbergh and his group rigorously measured the deceleration of their eyes as their beaks met wooden.

Given the eyeball is a reasonably appropriate proxy for the squishy insides, the researchers might calculate the physics of a decelerating cranium.

It seems the entire head strikes as one, with little variation in peak deceleration between the attention and the beak.

“Their heads principally perform as stiff, stable hammers throughout pecking,” says Van Wassenbergh.

Biomechanical fashions constructed on information collected from a frame-by-frame evaluation of their movies solely additional verified there wasn’t a substantial amount of shock-absorption between the tip of the beak and the cranium’s contents.


All these specialised bone buildings, through which case, do not a lot as deform and take in vitality from every blow as a lot as resist fracturing.

This makes the birds’ work extra impactful and environment friendly. “If the beak absorbed a lot of its personal impression the unlucky chicken must pound even tougher,” the researchers clarify.

Whereas based on one research the birds might undergo the consequences of a lifetime of head-banging, simulations carried out by Van Wassenbergh and his group on the intracranial stress of the woodpecker’s cranium counsel the fixed pushing and shoving on such small brains does not quantity to something critical, anyway.

Woodpeckers simply need not trouble with all these security options.

“The absence of shock absorption doesn’t imply their brains are in peril through the seemingly violent impacts,” says Van Wassenbergh.

“Even the strongest shocks from the over 100 pecks that had been analyzed ought to nonetheless be secure for the woodpeckers’ brains as our calculations confirmed mind loadings which might be decrease than that of people struggling a concussion.”

The findings assist clarify why woodpeckers by no means advanced to be a lot bigger than round half a meter (about 22 inches) in size. Whereas a muscly feathered jackhammer might drill out larger meals, their heavier brains would not be capable to face up to the stress.

Which implies that though they have small brains, woodpeckers aren’t so silly in any case.

This analysis was revealed in Present Biology.


By 24H

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