An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Wood Drilling Adaptations

2-4-15  hairy woodpecker 072Woodpeckers have begun their courtship drumming and they continue to excavate trees for food. Both of these activities involve a woodpecker’s head striking a tree’s surface at speeds up to 13 – 15 mph, and continuing to do so at over 100 strokes per minute. To sustain this kind of blow against a tree, woodpeckers have a number of skull adaptations, including strong yet lightweight skulls and bills, a network of bony supports within their skull, extra calcification of the portion of the skull nearest the tip of the bill, cushioning cartilage joining the bones between the skull and the beak, shock-absorbing neck muscles and a brain that is packed very tightly into the brain cavity.

A woodpecker’s brain, however, isn’t the only part of its anatomy that is adapted for drilling wood. A woodpecker’s nostrils are narrow slits (not circular, as in many birds) and are covered with bristly feathers that prevent wood chips and dust from entering them. Special cells on the end of its bill are constantly replacing material lost due to drilling. This keeps the chisel-pointed bill strong and resilient, while allowing it to be sharpened with every blow. And finally, less than a second before a woodpecker’s bill contacts wood, a thickened nictitating membrane closes over its eyes, protecting them from flying wood chips. (Photo: male hairy woodpecker)

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7 responses

  1. Karen Burns

    tiny but tough

    >

    February 4, 2015 at 9:05 am

  2. laure

    This is absolutely fascinating. I’m learning so
    much from Mary Holland

    February 4, 2015 at 9:35 am

  3. Leonard & Meredeth Allen

    Fascinating stuff, Mary!! Many thx. And the close-up photos are extraordinary. Meredeth in Francestown, NH. ps: Am thrilled with the GHO cam show in GA! ;-D

    February 4, 2015 at 10:43 am

  4. Ruth Coppersmith

    nature’s adaptations are so specific and intricate. awesome! Love getting your posts.

    February 4, 2015 at 10:57 am

  5. Marilyn

    Amazing.

    February 4, 2015 at 2:08 pm

  6. Fascinating adaptations – the world is full of such amazements!

    February 4, 2015 at 3:41 pm

  7. judilindsey

    Wow! Nature is amazing! Thanks, Judi

    February 5, 2015 at 7:37 am

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