One of the pleasures of walking through a wood is hearing the distant drumming of woodpeckers. We know they are searching for food, but few of us grasp the extraordinary nature of their achievement. Drumming rates of about 20 impacts per second are normal, with decelerations of 1200 g, and the drumming sessions may be repeated 500-600 times per day. By contrast, humans can lose consciousness when experiencing 4-6 g and are left concussed with a single deceleration of about 100 g. The authors of a recent analysis of the woodpecker’s shock-absorbing mechanism describes it as “advanced” and “special”. By looking at video material of drumming and CT scans of the bird’s head and neck, they found four structures that absorb mechanical shock:
“These are its hard-but-elastic beak; a sinewy, springy tongue-supporting structure that extends behind the skull called the hyoid; an area of spongy bone in its skull; and the way the skull and cerebrospinal fluid interact to suppress vibration.” (source)
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