Monday, April 21, 2008


Continuing with the theme from last week, it's rough out in nature! Today's case is not entirely nature's fault. We put the Audubon Center out here at the Francis Beidler Forest and it got in the way of a low-flying, high-speed Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). Out our window, we saw it coming hard around the corner of the meeting room but had no way to warn the bird that its flight path was about to be impeded by glass.

The large bird was able to hit the air brakes and reduce its impact velocity, but it was still a jarring blow. After briefly fluttering like a butterfly just beyond the window, the woodpecker flew to a nearby tree to clear its head. One would think, of any bird, a woodpecker would have the easiest time recovering from a blow to the head.

The brain of a woodpecker is packed tightly within its skull with no space to move and be damaged. Additionally, the bones of the skull are spongy to absorb shock along with strong, shock-absorbing neck muscles. The tongue, which exits the back of the skull, wraps over top of the skull and is anchored at the front of the skull near the bill is thought to add another layer of stablilization to the head. Nevertheless, the unexpected collision with the window kept the mohawk-wearing headbanger grounded for some time.

Image by Mark Musselman

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