Why aren’t woodpeckers extinct? This animal stands around and smashes its head against a tree all day long without ever “seeing stars.” It does this without sustaining any damage at all. The more we dig into this animal, the more amazing it proves to be. Here’s why.
Most humans are able to withstand about 20 times the force of gravity (g) for a few seconds. A constant 16 g for a full minute can kill us. Back in 1945 John Stapp endured an unheard of 46.2 g for a very brief time. Sadly, he suffered permanent damage to his vision from this test. In 1998, Indy racecar driver Kenny Brack was involved in a devastating car crash. He was subjected to the highest recorded g-force ever survived — 214 g (Wikipedia). The crash nearly killed him and cost him 18 months in recovery.
Here is where things get really amazing. Everything about the woodpecker is made to drive their beaks into wood as hard and efficiently as possible. They have special feet to grip onto the wood. They have stiff tail feathers to keep stable while slamming against trees. They have extra strong neck muscles for optimum head banging. Because of all of these features, woodpeckers slam their heads against wood with a force of about 1,000 g (Pappas). Not to mention, they do this around 20 times per second and 12,000 times per day! With so much force, why in the world aren’t woodpeckers blind and brain dead?
The reason the woodpecker doesn’t go blind is because it essentially closes its eyes right before it hits the wood. The woodpecker has a special membrane (nictitating membrane) that closes over the eyes about a millisecond before contact (Schwab). This membrane not only protects it from popping its eyes out, but also from all the flying wood shards. And don’t forget, the woodpecker does this about 20 times per second and 12,000 times per day without ever suffering damage to its eyes.
What about brain damage? Every part of the woodpecker’s head is custom built to avoid major head trauma. Its beak is composed of microscopic rod structures which are very strong but also absorb some of the impact. At the back of the upper beak, there is more tissue than bone which helps soften the blow. Strangely, at the back of the lower beak there is more bone than tissue so that it doesn’t cushion as much. Scientists think this channels the force through the lower beak and away from the woodpecker’s brain (Greij). Beyond this, the woodpecker is equipped with one of the world’s strongest helmets. Its brain is encased in tremendously strong, yet spongy structure of beamlike bones. This bone formation acts like a helmet and cushions the blow, dispersing the force around the skull. All of these parts work together perfectly to protect the woodpecker’s brain and keep it completely unharmed.
These characteristics blatantly defy evolution. All of these features need to be fully formed and fully functioning at the same time. It simply must have a fully formed, reinforced skull structure to survive. It has to have an extra strong beak, tail feathers, and eye protection. It would only take one time for a woodpecker to slam its head against a tree to smash its beak, destroy its tail feathers, and pop out its eyes. If the 1,000 g or the overall damage didn’t kill it instantly, then it would starve to death because of the damage it sustained. Partially evolved animals don’t survive. Dead animals don’t evolve.
All of these complex parts are simply so the woodpecker can slam its face into some wood and make a little hole! So what happens when it somehow is able to make a hole but then it turns out the bug is out of reach? God designed the woodpecker with something special for this problem as well.
The woodpecker screams of intelligent design. The much more reasonable explanation is that the woodpecker came fully formed, completely functioning, and entirely created. The words of Revelation 4:11 speak the truth about God, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” The clear design of the woodpecker gives due honor to God the Creator. We too should honor and worship God!
Click Here for Part 2 on the Woodpecker
- Fergus, Chuck. Woodpeckers. Pennsylvania Game Commission Bureau of Information and Education.
- Greij, Eldon. Why Woodpeckers Can Hammer Without Getting Headaches. http://www.birdwatchingdaily.com/blog/2013/12/10/woodpeckers-can-hammer-without-getting-headaches/
- Mayntz, Melissa. 15 Fun Facts About Woodpeckers. http://birding.about.com/od/birdprofiles/a/15-Fun-Facts-About-Woodpeckers.htm
- Pappas, Stephanie. Why Woodpeckers Don’t Get Concussions. <http://www.livescience.com/19586-woodpecker-skull-concussions.html>
- Schwab, I. (2002). “Cure for a headache”. British Journal of Ophthalmology 86 (8): 843.
3 thoughts on “Why Aren’t Woodpeckers Blind and Brain Dead?”
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I’m a born again Christian and working biologist. Evolution always made sense to me before I was born again because 1) that’s what my professors said, and 2) I never questioned it. It was not until AFTER I was born again that i began to actually THINK about what I’d observed my entire life in the field. Sometimes, when I think about something particularly amazing that I’ve seen out in the field, i consider macro evolution as an explanation and laugh. It’s pitifully absurd. Your woodpecker essays are such examples. Cogently written and lucidly spelled out. Really enjoyed them & just Google-stumbled across the blog while researching pileated woodpeckers!
Thank you for the very kind words sir. A Christian biologist is certainly a very rare combination these days. I applaud you!