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Why Don’t Woodpeckers Get Concussion?


Why Don’t Woodpeckers Get Concussion?


 

Are you fortunate enough to be visited by woodpeckers? Do you offer to encourage these fascinating birds to visit your garden? If so, then you will have observed their amazing behaviour. But had you ever wondered if woodpeckers get concussion or if that woodpecker food that you provide is saving the birds from a brain injury?

Head Injuries in Humans


 

If we head butted a tree or ran headlong into a log, it would hurt! Our actions would also result in a bad case of concussion. Indeed, we don’t have to hit our heads very hard to do some serious damage. Repeated small impacts, such as those sustained by rugby players and American football players, will take their toll over time and cause a condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Here nerve damage results in the brain wasting away and sufferers experience memory loss and confusion.


 

Pecking 10,000 Times a Day


 

Wood is an extremely hard material and yet woodpeckers do not get concussed when repeatedly throwing themselves at it face first. They peck up to 20 times a second and up to 10,000 times each day and yet remain unharmed by their activity. How can this be? Well, evolution has seen to it that woodpeckers are built for head banging!


 

Spongy Skulls


 

Firstly, woodpeckers’ skulls are a little spongier than ours which means that impacts are more effectively absorbed. In addition to their spongy skulls, woodpeckers have eyes which close automatically before impact to protect them.


 

Longer Hyoid Bones


 

Woodpeckers also have impressive hyoid bones which are very different to those in humans. The hyoid bone of a woodpecker extends from the back of the mouth, all of the way around the skull and ends between the eyes. This acts like a seat belt to provide extra protection for the skull in an impact. Their neck muscles are also extremely strong and so help to diffuse the blows.


 

The Brain


 

A Woodpecker’s brain positioned differently in the skull to that of a human so as to more evenly distribute the forces of an impact. It is more tightly packed in the skull which means that it doesn’t rattle around. It the brain slamming into the skull which causes the damage in an impact.


 

Speed of Impact


 

The speed at which woodpeckers peck at the trees is also important. Even humans can survive enormous G forces if they only last for a fraction of a second. We can survive car crashes which exert G forces on our bodies that would certainly prove fatal if they continued for a longer period of time. The woodpecker accelerates and pecks in a matter of milliseconds, minimising the effect of each impact.


 

Lightweights


 

So the woodpecker sustains impacts over minute periods of time, its hyoid bones protects the skull and its brain is positioned so as to evenly distribute the forces. But the main reason that this bird can keep pecking without injuring itself is its weight. The fact that woodpeckers do not get concussion is down to simple physics. These birds are very light and so the force applied to their brains is much less than if a heavier human head was to hit a tree.


 

Woodpeckers do not harm themselves when they search for food but that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate it you they get a little help from us. Woodpecker food will attract these amazing birds to your garden so you can see their incredible behaviour for yourself.

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