Headaches: Best Shock Absorption in Woodpeckers


Headaches: Best Shock Absorption in Woodpeckers [2018]

What if preparing your meal required you to bang your head on a tree everyday?  Do you think that might give you a headache?  Maybe even concussion?  Thanks goodness we don’t have to do that to prepare each meal!


Have you ever wondered how woodpeckers do it?  These beautiful unique birds typically live in forests.  Even without seeing one, you can understand a woodpecker is nearby when you hear its characteristic knocking on a tree.


The woodpecker does not just knock its bill on the tree for fun.  Some woodpeckers do this to hollow out the bark and reach insects underneath.  Others hollow out holes to drink the wood sap.

Regardless of diet, all 200 species of woodpeckers drums on trees like a jackhammer.


How does a woodpecker manage to not break its neck or injure its brain?


Let’s put it in perspective.  If a person gets into a car accident and gets hit on the head with a horizontal G-Force between 80-100, he could get a concussion.  But imagine this:  When a woodpecker strikes a tree, it sustains a G-Force of 1,200.


Here are additional comparisons:

Astronauts reach up to 3G’s during launch.

At a theme park, the Tower of Terror reaches 6.3G, the most G-force than any other roller coaster in the world.  It’s generally manageable because it only lasts a few seconds.

Fighter pilots endure 8-9G’s vertically.


Scientists studying woodpeckers learned that 4 factors that make woodpeckers’ heads shock-absorbent.


  1. Firm yet flexible bill
  2. A hyoid, bone and tissue material that wraps around the skull
  3. A spongy bone structure inside the skull
  4. Minimal space for cerebral-spinal fluid between the skull and the brain




Each element absorbs mechanical shock when a woodpecker strikes a tree.  With these elements combined, a woodpecker can strike a tree up to 22x per second without injuring its brain.


How is this information useful?

Thanks to the research, scientists invented casing that endue a G-Force of up to 60,000.  In the future, this may have an impact to aircraft flight recorders, which currently withstand G-Force of about 1,000.  Also vibration isolation and protection is important for electronic devices.  Perhaps in the future we may ride smoother cars that absorb vibrations better.


Quotes Kim Blackburn, an engineer from Cranfield University (UK), the woodpecker’s head is “a fascinating example of how nature develops highly advanced structures in combination, to solve what at first seems to be an impossible challenge.”


Now you understand how strong a woodpecker’s head is.  The next time you hear the banging of a diligent woodpecker, think about the amazing design of this creature.

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