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Scientists have long wondered how woodpeckers can withstand the catastrophic impact of their beaks on wood.
Previous studies have suggested that the bird’s brain is protected because of a skull that acts as a cushion or a beak that absorbs force.
Now, a new research team is using high-speed video cameras to record woodpeckers in action to see what shields the birds’ brains from impact, NPR reported.
In a new study, lead author Sam Van Wassenbergh and his team went to four different zoos in Europe to closely observe the high-impact pecking.
They wrote that the birds close their eyes at the moment of impact to avoid getting splinters. The woodpeckers are also very adept at maneuvering their beaks even when they became stuck in the wood.
Meanwhile, the team noted that the video evidence showed no sign that the avians’ brains were cushioned.
“The way we see the head behaving is very rigid, like you would use a hammer hitting wood,” explained Van Wassenbergh.
This means that the brain is repeatedly decelerating, which would result in a concussion in a human brain. Even after hundreds of blows in a single day, the woodpecker’s brain remains unharmed.
The researchers suggested that this protection is caused by the very tiny size and weight of the woodpecker’s brain – which is 700 times smaller than a human one.
“An animal that has a smaller size can withstand higher decelerations,” Wassenbergh said. “That’s a biomechanical law.”