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    How woodpeckers avoid head injury

    NewsBird NewsThursday 27 October 2011
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    Slow-motion footage, X-ray images and computer simulations have shed light on how woodpeckers avoid injuries to their brains as they peck.

    Their heads move some 6m per second, at each peck enduring a deceleration more than 1,000 times the force of gravity.

    But researchers reporting in Plos One say that unequal upper and lower beak lengths and spongy, plate-like bone structure protect the birds' brains.

    The findings could help design more effective head protection for humans.

    For years, scientists have examined the anatomy of woodpeckers' skulls to find out how they pull off their powerful pecking without causing themselves harm.

    The birds have little "sub-dural space" between their brains and their skulls, so the brain does not have room to bump around as it does in humans. Also, their brains are longer top-to-bottom than front-to-back, meaning the force against the skull is spread over a larger brain area.

    A highly-developed bone called the hyoid - which in humans is just above the "Adam's apple" - has also been studied: starting at the underside of the birds' beaks, it makes a full loop through their nostrils, under and around the back of their skulls, over the top and meeting again before the forehead.

    Source: BBC News

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