Why do woodpeckers peck?
The Woodpecker is a tree-climbing bird with a strong beak.
It lives in forests. It pecks at the bark of a tree to find its food, such as insects and insect larvae. It has a long tongue to catch insects. It also pecks on the tree to communicate with other Woodpeckers.
Wood-pecking is hard work. To ensure that it has enough energy, the Woodpecker needs to eat regularly. Scientists think that it can eat 1,000-2,000 insects a day.
The Woodpecker is a fast pecker. It pecks 20-25 times per second. That’s about 8,000-12,000 times a day. It pecks for several seconds then takes a rest before doing it again.
This means that its skull and neck, as well as its beak, are very strong. The tip of its beak is like a carpentry tool called a chisel that carpenters use to shape wood. Its beak is elastic. It also has a springy, cartilaginous bone, called a hyoid bone, in its throat and nasopharynx. Also, its skull has a spongy bone.
The Woodpecker must hit the tree bark straight, and not on an angle. It uses its X-shaped feet (two digits pointing forward and two digits pointing backward) with sharp claws to hold the tree trunk tightly so that it does not slip.
In 2022, researchers at the University of Antwerp in Belgium analysed 109 high-speed videos of six captive woodpeckers as they hammered into wood. They found that in a millisecond after their beaks peck into the wood, the eyes and heads of the woodpeckers slowed down at the same rate as the beaks. This meant that the spongy bone in front of their eyes was not absorbing the shocks, but it was porous and lightweight yet strong enough to withstand the pecking. The researchers found that the impact of the beak striking the wood was not hard enough to cause concussion or a sore head!
Location of photograph: Tsavo National Park, Kenya
Photographer: Martina Nicolls
Martina Nicolls: SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM