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No Pounding Headache
The Pileated Woodpecker makes loud, hard whacks, as it leans back and then slams its bill into the side of a living tree. Sounds painful, if not downright disabling! How does the woodpecker's brain withstand it? All woodpeckers have an enlarged brain case, so the brain sits above the level of direct hammering impact. The skull's frontal bones - together with a set of muscles at the bill's base - act as a shock absorber.
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The Woodpecker’s Head—
No Pounding Headache
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote!
[Loud whacks of a Pileated Woodpecker, excavating]
These loud, hard whacks are made by a Pileated Woodpecker as it leans back and then slams its chisel of a bill into the side of a living tree. [More whacks] Sounds painful, if not downright disabling! [Continue whacks]
Most animals would be knocked unconscious by slamming their faces into a tree at twenty-five miles per hour. But a bird so skilled a carpenter – and one that uses its head as its primary tool – has evolved some very specialized equipment for the job.
This woodpecker – and all woodpeckers – have an enlarged brain case, so the brain sits above the level of direct hammering impact. The skull’s frontal bones, folded at the base of the bill – together with a set of muscles there – act as a shock absorber.
Now out comes the woodpecker’s amazing tongue, at least three times the length of its bill, with sticky barbs at the tip, to snag ants and other insects deep in the tree. When not extended, the tongue is sheathed up the back of the bird’s skull, curling all the way around to the eyes!
As any artisan knows, it pays to have the right tools.
So knock on wood! If you’re lucky, there’s an Audubon chapter near you, ready to help you learn more about the amazing abilities of birds. Begin with a visit to our website, birdnote.org. I’m Michael Stein.
[Call of Pileated Woodpecker]
Call and pecking of the Pileated Woodpecker provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Pecking of Pileated Woodpecker recorded by G.A. Keller, hurried call of Pileated Woodpecker recorded by D. Herr.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2012 Tune In to Nature.org December 2012 Narrator: Michael Stein