“I feel like I’m beating my head against the wall.” Obviously, that’s an expression we use to describe a pointless pursuit that accomplishes nothing but pain. However, it is an action that a woodpecker does on purpose!
I marveled as I watched a Pileated Woodpecker hammering away in the Okefenokee Swamp… chunks of bark and wood flying everywhere. I could only imagine how much my brain would be addled if I were to try it myself. With all the concerns about concussions in high school and college athletes, it is clearly something humans weren’t made to do.
But that is not true of the woodpeckers. In Unlocking the Mysteries of Creation, Dennis Peterson writes, “The woodpecker is totally different from other birds. Every part of his body is especially fitted for drilling into wood.”
The woodpecker’s beak alone is designed for the job. It is harder than that of other birds, and the base of the bill is fitted with a shock-absorbing tissue not found in some other species. To go along with a beak designed for drilling, the woodpecker has a specialized tongue. Fashioned to fit into those freshly drilled holes, the woodpecker’s tongue is four times longer than the beak and wraps around the back of the bird’s skull! The tail, legs and claws are also specialized designs to help the woodpecker hold in place during his jack-hammer feeding sessions. And a keen sense of smell helps the woodpecker determine the precise drilling point to maximize the chance of excavating an insect.
All these wonderfully engineered traits are obviously to the woodpecker’s advantage and keep it from pointlessly beating his head against the wall!