Why doesn't the woodpecker suffer damage as he spends his day hammering his head?

(Image source: Reproduction / Wikipedia)

Imagine if you had to spend the day banging your head on a log. At the very least, it would end up with a lot of roosters, a tremendous headache, and probably some serious brain damage. So how do woodpeckers manage to spend a lifetime hammering their little heads without even a single injury?

According to an article published by io9, a group led by Prof. Fan Yubo of Beihang University of China presented a study that explains this mystery. The researchers spent three years studying the composition, microstructure, and mechanical properties of the woodpecker skull and beak, finding that the bird has developed an incredible cranial structure through thousands of years of evolution.

The images on the left (A and C) correspond to the woodpecker, and those on the right (B and D) correspond to the lark. (Image source: Reproduction / Prof. Fan Yubo)

Super skull

After comparing the bones of the woodpecker with those of the larks, scholars have observed that although the strength of the beaks of the two birds is similar, the skull of the woodpecker is much stronger. This is due to the presence of a flatter cancellous bone species, which makes this structure very resistant to deformation.

In addition, the bird has a large amount of trabeculae - tiny spaces in marrow-filled bones - that help to better distribute impacts.

However, the study may also have very important practical applications. The researchers hope the findings could inspire the development of more effective human protective helmets.