Woodpeckers live in all regions of the world except in the extreme polar regions – Australia, New Zealand, south and north pole.
In Total, 236 species of woodpeckers exist in the world, and about 20 of these amazing avian species are on the verge of extinction.
Woodpeckers have short legs with zygodactyl feet to get a grip of the tree truck and to move vertically on the tree. Some avian creatures need a specialized beak and tongues to hunt their prey.
They have sharp and strong beaks with sticky long tongues for effective drilling and pecking on the trees to grasp insects.
Although woodpeckers do not sing, both males and females make distinctive sounds to attract their mates and protect their territory.
It is common to find them pecking on metal surfaces, chimneys, glasses, etc., or making distinct sounds by hammering them, largely for attracting partners or escaping predators.
They also establish territory by giving sound signals well audible to other birds in that area.
Woodpeckers hammer or do repetitive pecking on wood known as drumming to mark their territory.
So, how strong is the woodpecker’s beak and skull to withstand the slamming against the trunk? How fast can woodpeckers peck on wood?
There are many bewildering facts about woodpeckers’ beak, tongue, and skull and their structures to endure the high impact shock during hammering that are less known.
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What kind of beak does a woodpecker have?
The woodpeckers have hierarchical multiscale structure beaks, which contribute to the bird’s ability to absorb energy and drill holes in the barks of trees.
At the macroscale level, bird beaks are well-developed to peck at other woodpeckers at a micro speed and poking holes, but they produce less force when they make sounds.
The woodpecker’s beak tip acts as a penetrating tool, and its sharpness is neither too sharp and pointed like hummingbirds nor too blunt like a chicken beak.
The woodpecker’s beak looks specially designed with features like
- lightweight to control its position
- significant power and strength to penetrate woods
- large bending strength to move flexibly
- Shock and energy absorption to protect head and body
- Have internal damping to avoid vibration created by drilling woods
These adaptations and features of beaks and head help woodpeckers to contribute to the shock-absorbing ability and feed on their favorite foods such as
- Their sharp and chisel-like beak can penetrate easily into the trunk rather than stop abruptly in the middle.
- Dense and strong neck muscles give them strength and stability to withstand the impact of repeated hammering. A millisecond before the shock, birds contract their neck muscles and close their inner eyelids.
- Reduced space in the cranium prevents birds from sloshing their brain.
- Orientation of the brain distributes the force over a larger surface.
Scientists found micro-modifications in the bone structure around the bird’s skull and lower mandible, which aids in absorbing the shocking impact of pecking.
In addition, the bony structure of the lower bill is longer than that of the upper bill, but the tissue around the upper beak is longer than that surrounding the lower beak.
They believe that the energy they get from the peck is directed to the lower beak and that it keeps away from the brain.
Do woodpeckers have sharp beaks?
Woodpeckers have a lot of biological specifications that work together to assist them to prey on their food.
Woodpeckers’ beaks are sturdy, strong, long, pointed, and self-sharpening with chisel-like end tips for drilling holes in the trunks.
They also have a weird potential to make use of their robust beak to extract insects and sap, without hurting themselves.
The birds also have a long and narrow tongue, which sometimes they use as a spear to pierce insects, dragging them out of the hole.
They also produce an immense amount of saliva which gets coated alongside the tongue, enhancing the ability to fish out the prey.
In birds, the complex cartilage and narrow bone are known as “hyoid apparatus” which supports the tongue and extends to the tip of the tongue.
In woodpeckers, the two horns of the hyoid are projected laterally and backward from the tongue and continue further to the skull.
In woodpeckers, when the muscles attached to the tongue are moved forward, the tongue is extended outside the beak. Its hyoid horns and sticky tongue extend far and wide compared to its beak.
How strong is a woodpecker’s beak?
Woodpeckers use their powerful and durable beaks to hammer on dead woods, bushes, different building structures, or ant-holes. Their sharp and robust pointed beaks are positioned as an alternative to the nostril to humans and help to hunt their prey.
Woodpeckers drill on the trunks to capture hidden insects and bugs, excavate nests and mark their territory through loud noises.
Well-adapted and well-fitted beaks enable these birds to accomplish all of their tasks and contribute to their success.
Between their chook beak and cranium, a pad of sentimental tissues is available to absorb the impact of energy created from shock on each blow.
Woodpeckers use their extraordinarily long and sticky tongues with barbed tips to fish out their prey from holes in trees they drill with their beaks.
How much force does a woodpecker have?
As woodpeckers hammer on trees, they strike their heads at least 1000 times the force of gravity (1000 g) and can withstand high impact shocks to their skull without suffering any ill effects, such as headaches, jaw aches, and other injuries to their necks.
Gray-faced woodpeckers have a sticky tongue that is estimated to be around 6.73 inches in length( 171 mm), which is 2.8 times greater than their strong beaks (2.36 inches) and even longer than their actual size from their mouth to the buttock.
Because their upper beaks are longer than their lower beaks, woodpeckers are able to hammer away with their bills.
Their lower beak is made of a strong bone which is good in absorbing the impact created during pecking and drilling.
They prefer pecking on the bark or trunk of the trees in search of food, or for nesting purposes. They do not prefer chipping on twigs as they are too weak for their strong beaks.
How fast can woodpeckers peck? How long can they peck?
Woodpeckers bill are capable of striking on trunks about 45km/h (25mph), with a force of each strike 20 times greater than what can cause brain sloshing in a human.
In one day, they strike an average of 8000 to 120000 times. Increased drumming in woodpeckers can be observed during the mating season.
These birds damage commercial buildings made from vulnerable woods such as pine, plywood, cypress, redwood siding, and fir.
They even attack telephone poles, drill large holes in eaves, rim broads, window frames, puncture metal gutters, Tv antenna, chimney tops, and so on. The main goal is to feast on insects and bugs that are attached to objects and also to attract potential mates.
Red-bellied woodpeckers have extremely lengthy tongues, extending up to three times the length of the beak.
Athletic Gear companies saw these birds undergoing a force of 1200 to 1400 g’s on each peck but still go without any damages, and started designing helmets and neck collars for humans based on this ideology.
Do woodpeckers ever damage or break their beaks? Does it ever get dull?
Woodpeckers don’t get hurt or get stuck on their thin and straight beaks on the trees, because of their ability to move the upper and the lower beaks upward and downward independently.
Once the beak hits the source, their head rotates to the side, lifts the top of the beak slightly, and twists a bit in the opposite direction.
This pull creates free space between the beak tip and the wood, so birds can easily retract back.
Researchers believe that their beak is rigidly attached to the head. However, they found that the flexibility of the bills at the joints ensured their sound non-stop.
Why do woodpeckers peck on metal or hard surfaces?
Woodpeckers knock their beaks on hard surfaces) to grab the attention of other woodpeckers, establish their territory, and excavate their roosting and nesting cavities.
Woodpeckers even use metals like house gutters, telephone poles, and chimney caps to amplify their drumming sound (announcement) and to generate echo even more loud than wood.
Woodpeckers have the instinctive behavior to drill on man-made objects which provides great amplification of their announcements.
They even peck on windows, aluminum siding, and tin roofs which generate a loud drumming sound to attract the attention of their potential mate in the spring season.
Their sharp beaks never have a dull moment, as they are capable of self-sharpening. These powerful beaked birds prefer dead trees more than the alive ones, as they will be easier to peck, and also full of insects and larvae to feed on.
Very few birds have long tongues like the woodpeckers’ allowing them to feed on the hummingbird feeders at times. Their beaks are their powerful assets.
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