“The woodpecker's ability to protect his head may help engineers build safer cars.” -- Chelsea Harvey
I remember a couple of years ago when there was a tennis ball sized hole in the concrete wall of the south building facing the EDU-Garden™. Very mysterious, indeed! We wondered, "what could have caused that?" After some debate, we decided “no matter, patch it up, before it becomes a home for something.” A few days later we heard the tap, tap, rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker- Mystery solved! We looked to find him. There he was, high on the building, tapping out the newly patched hole. “Surely there must be a tree of insects nearby,” I pondered. “Shouldn't he have a headache by now?”
While I still do not know the why for his odd behavior, I do know the how! The woodpecker's skull anatomy along with reinforced bone surrounding his head enables him to endure up to 1500g force units and he does this head banging 8000 to 12,000 times a day! We’re all familiar with the idea of “g-forces”; the acceleration due to gravity at the Earth's surface.
Walking around, we experience 1g-force. On a roller coaster, like Disney’s Space Mountain, we can feel 3.5g’s, which is about the same as an astronaut experiences on takeoff. So a woodpecker is enduring almost 500 times what an astronaut feels! Wow! No other bird can do this!
Are they a nuisance with their incessant banging and drilling? I think not. They help control insects, eating 2000 ants a day and they limit the spread of tree diseases by destroying insect carriers. Also, the roosting holes they create are frequently used by many other birds. Now I am wondering what kind of birds would live in a hole? I almost wish we had not patched the wall!
To learn more about these amazing birds and their unique adaptations, check out audubon.org or the beautyofbirds.com.