Friday, January 30, 2009

THE BURNING QUESTION...

Why don't Woodpeckers get headaches?









The Pileated, Red-Bellied, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers claim my woods as their home. We have hundreds of oval and round holes chiseled in towering trees, some are decaying and some are live. Usually these hard workers prefer decaying wood, but have been known to chose healthy trees to call home. I've seen both sexes in each species, subtle differences in coloring distinguish the exact sex. For instance, with the Pileated Woodpeckers, both have red crests on their heads, but the male(Top two photos), has a thin red moustache, whereas the female does not. In Ohio, it's considered an uncommon permanent resident in the area it calls home. I was very excited to see the female first, and a couple of weeks later the male showed up close to the cabin, too. I've seen them from a distance down our driveway in the past couple of years, but never this close...maybe 25 feet from the cabin. Interesting fact, the American Indians used the red crests of these gorgeous birds to decorate their pipes.












One day as I was watching the male Pileated Woodpecker, the largest of the woodpeckers, I thought to myself how that must hurt them hammering away and wondered if they end up with a major headache? After some research, I actually found an explanation. It seems that thick, dense muscles in the neck contract right before a strike to the tree. They have sponge-like bones that act as a cushion and a third eyelid. This third eyelid closes as it's hammering away, which protects the eye from wood chips and literally holds the eyeball in place.

It's a great design when you think that they hammer away and strike about 15 times per second! So, this is the answer to the burning question...but...all this really explains is why their eyeballs don't pop out. We all know woodpeckers can't talk...but if they could, I'd bet they would ask for a Tylenol!







Posted by Picasa Now, there's something else I'm wondering about...just a third eyelid? Is only one eye protected? Does this third eyelid somehow cover both eyes? If anyone knows the answer, please...drop me a comment!

37 comments:

flydragon said...

I've never heard of the third eyelid so can't help you on that one. I love all woodys. I know the pileated ones are around in this area but I've never seen one here. So they're moving closer to your house? Your house is a log home right? Hear any knocking on the door or walls when you're not expecting company? :)

Hocking Hills Gardener said...

Because their feather brained of course :)
The Pileated Woodpecker can cause some serious wood shavings to fly.
We have both here also but I cannot tell the males from the females.
I am just not up on the different birds but learning a little this winter.
Beautiful close ups!
LOna

joey said...

Pileated woodpeckers rule in many posts today, Kim. Good question regarding headaches as I retire with my pounding head :)

Sunita said...

Funny, Kim! If there's a raid on a chemist's shop, we'll know where to look for the culprit ;)
About the third eyelid, maybe they're talking about a third lid per eye. I've seen pigeons blinking at me with their pale lids (I think its called a nictating membrane?)

spookydragonfly said...

Flydragon...The first couple years after we moved here...we had to deal with a few persistent Downy Woodpeckers hammering away at the cabin. We haven't had too much trouble as of late. Now that I just made that statement, I'll probably be eating my words! We've heard walking on our roof many times...turned out to be wild turkeys.

Lona...I typed in woodpeckers and headache in my search, I came up with an article titled...Why Woodpeckers don't get headaches! I'm not up on alot of the birds, just like you, I'm learning. Check out the first three photos...the male Pileated has a thin red moustache, the female doesn't.

Joey...Sorry about your headache! I referred to many articles on the Pileated, they all seemed to contradict eachother on the scarcity or non-scarcity of this beautiful bird. I contacted an authority in Ohio on this subject. They were to the point of near distinction for many years, but have made a comeback in the last couple of decades. In Ohio they are protected, you are considered fortunate if you see them. They're supposedly quite shy!

Sunita...You know me when it comes to the wildlife, I'm a bleeding heart! The article that I referred to kept repeating eyeball and eyelid in singular form. It wasn't until I was nearly done typing this post that I realized that. You're probably right about a thin membrane as an eyelid. I've used the continous mode on my camera, and after viewing all the photos of the woodpeckers up close and in action...their eyes don't appear closed.

Richard said...

Great pictures of the woodpeckers. You're getting better with the pictures.

The membrane tht covers the eye, you'll never see. All birds have them to protect the eyes. It's mainly used in flight. I always like to think that it keeps bugs off their windshields....:-)

Jan (Thanks For 2 Day) said...

Oooohh! Wow Kim, You've captured some great shots here! I get all of these birds in my yard, and the pileateds eat from my suet feeders. I've seen 2 at once several times, and the male or female individually as well. My problem was capturing both of them in the shot at the same time. I think I actually do have a couple, but they were so far apart, that the photo didn't look right to me, as it had an empty center, no focal point. So I've never published them. I didn't know any of the info. you presented, it's really interesting! Didn't know they had a third eye, & never even wondered about their heads and eyeballs hurting or popping out...but you asked a super question! It's exciting for me to know; I should do more research myself. I cringed when I read about the indians using the red top of their heads! But, man has done a lot of things through the years that today we might find gruesome. I'm so glad you got the great photos and shared all of this! Love it all:)

Jan (Thanks For 2 Day) said...

I want to add that we started getting Pileated Woodpeckers about 3 years ago, when a large wooded area was cleared to build ......
MORE HOMES:( They were building left and right, clearing everything all around us. Luckily we have some large trees and I surmised that they started coming here after their homes were destroyed by ...... MAN!!! Now that the economy is horrible, the building is at an all time low

I provide suet for all the birds, and once these Pileateds found it, I think they know right where to come when they need a treat!

About them pecking on your house, we have the same thing!! I'll be lying in bed and hear the peck, peck, peck and go open my blinds, then see a little one fly away. It's been going on for years, since I started 'seriously' observing and feeding the birds (about 3 yrs). Still haven't noticed any destruction from them. I think they just like to 'peck'...for no other reason than.... to peck!!!!

Mo said...

Once again what lovely pictures! We get woodpeckers here too though I have never managed to get any pictures. Thanks for the interesting facts too! :)

Maria said...

Well that is interesting about that woodpecker...I wonder if all have the third eyelid... At certain times of the year we have woodpeckers come and land on our inserted fireplace pipe at the top of our house and they like to drill on the metal..however, I don't have any photos of them. I do like photos of birds..swans, herons, crows, hummingbirds...all kinds. I love your woodpeckers and cardinals. WE have bluejays...I think your camera is better since you have such great detail. Very nice. Maria

Roses and stuff said...

Beautiful creatures - woodpeckers are so nice (even though I don't know very much about them). Need to learn more about birds.
Katarina

spookydragonfly said...

Hi Richard...I didn't know that all birds have that membrane! So, that would be considered the second eyelid? I've got so much to learn about birds in general, thanks for the tidbit!

spookydragonfly said...

Jan...I have a few photos of pairs together. Yesterday, there were about five or six just playing around with eachother in one tree, or maybe they were bickering. There were three males there. Pecking?...that's for chickens! These birds hammer!! While photographing the sunset two nights ago, I saw a Pileated enter it's home! I'm keeping a watchful eye out on that tree!

spookydragonfly said...

Mo...O.K....Grab your camera and get a few shots! They're such a striking bird aren't they? Ha! In more ways than one!

Maria...At this time of year, the birds are a subsitute for my dragonflies. Once spring comes, I'll be around the pond whenever possible! A few years back we had a quick visit from a couple of Loons on the pond...wish I had taken a photo of that. Swans would be perfect gracing the pond!

Katarina...They are beautiful with the contrasting colors. I'm with you, I need to do more bird research. If I didn't have such a quirky mind (wondering why they don't get headaches), I never would've known these facts.

Anne said...

What pretty pictures you were able to get of the woodpecker's. I just love that red on them and their speckled necks.

spookydragonfly said...

Hi Anne...Thank you, I think the Woodpeckers are my favorite bird to photograph, although a little more challenging!

Shellmo said...

So many great woodpecker photos! I always consider it a miracle when I see the Pileated and you captured him well!

spookydragonfly said...

Hello Shellmo...I was very excited to see them so close. The female first and then the male a couple of weeks later was real treat! While photographing the sunset a few nights ago, I saw a Pileated fly into it's nest. I'm hoping to catch that in action!

T and S said...

Nice series and your research is perfect. I have images of the woodpecker third eyelid coming into effect at exact the moment of strike. And my god, they have really long sticky tongue as well.

Jan (Thanks For 2 Day) said...

Hi Kim,
I noticed you said they 'hammer', not 'peck', you're right!! ha ha.

I just stopped by today to say hi. I listened to Enya while I was here. I love that song...though it's haunting to me: reminds me of 9/11.

JGH said...

Wow that's interesting about the third eyelid. I guess that would explain any "sleepecking" you might see. We have lots of downy ones here but I never see them pecking. Just attacking the feeders.

MyMaracas said...

Great photos! I have a love/hate thing with woodpeckers. Our old house had cedar siding, and every spring the Downies would attack it. I wish I had a dollar for every time I flung myself out of bed... jumped up from the computer... dripped water from the shower to run to a rattling wall and pound on it until the little monsters flew off. Still. They are amazing.

spookydragonfly said...

Hi Thomas...Now that would be a great photo, I'll have to check back on your blog to see if you've posted that. No comparison, but, I've got a so-so photo of a Titmouse with his tongue reaching out...I might post it. Loved your latest post featuring your exotic woodpeckers!

spookydragonfly said...

Hello Jan...I like the fact that I can more or less track them down in the woods by following their hammering! I, too, love Enya...but to me, this particular song is a hauntingly beautiful piece. It slows my breathing down and calms me every time I listen to it.

Hi JGH...I finally put out two suet feeders when I noticed the woodpeckers were not only going at it on my trees, but the birdfeeder posts as well! I'm keeping an eye out for that third eyelid, I'd like to see it in action!

Hello Vicki...You had me laughing, I remember doing the same thing when they used to attack the cabin. They are amazing to watch though.

Patsi said...

How exciting, you finally got those pictures you wanted !
Beautiful birds...love the one with the red spikey hair doo.
Funny, about all the holes in the trees.
You have a busy property with all those birds and other friends. You must love it!

spookydragonfly said...

Hello Patsi...That's the female Pileated Woodpecker sporting the red spiked doo that you speak of! We have some trees with about 20 or more holes in them, some woodpeckers will make excess "ESCAPE" holes. I do love sharing the woods with the wildlife.

Nutty Gnome said...

Sigh! You have some wonderful photos and such gorgeous coloured birds - we have a nice line in brown, oh, and grey! Okay, we do get robins, wrens and finches but that's about it for colour round here!

Patsi said...

Kim,
Might I suggest Gardenweb "Bird Forum" for any ID's. I found them very helpful.
Have a great weekend.
Patsi

spookydragonfly said...

Nutty Gnome...Thank you, I have fourteen different types of birds that frequent the feeder so far. I wish our climate could support those vividly colored ones that we see posted with those living in the tropical climates!

Patsi...Thank you for the link! I'll most certainly check it out. You have a great weekend, too!

Weeping Sore said...

Yikes! Third eyelid! Clenched neck muscles etc. What a bunch of selected traits. I'd rather presume woodpeckers don't get headaches because they don't have to deal with teenage children. In any case, thanks for the pics. We have some tiny woodpeckers that show up in winter, but I can't get decent pics. I'm always surprised at how small and dainty they are.

spookydragonfly said...

Hello Weeping Sore...Now there's an explanation that I never thought of! Your Woodpeckers are probably the Downys.

Hang in there...just a few more years and more than likely you'll look back and laugh at those teen years!

fishing guy said...

SD: You certainly captured a wonderful number of woodpecker variations.

spookydragonfly said...

Hello Fishing Guy...Thank you, I'm hoping to catch the Pileated entering their home. I have one shot but it's from a distance and very blurry. I've camped out by their chosen tree a few nights, but to no avail..I'm hoping I didn't scare them off to a new home.

camellia said...

I love woodpeckers, they're rather common, at least one of the species, in Sweden. They areally are fascinating to watch – and the sound is cool too. I think it's a third eyelid per eye. Many animals seem to have two eyelids "normally" (cats for instance, it's like an inner one apart from the outer one – you can see it when they're relaxed and sort of half sleepy and open their eyes very slowly). Myself need pitch black darkness when sleeping and black-outs are sometimes a pain to arrange. I wish I had a built-in, an extra, thick eyelid, in my eyes!

spookydragonfly said...

Hello Camellia...After observing all the varieties of Woodpeckers fairly close, I think they are one of my favorite birds to watch. They seem comical and I like the vibrant coloring as well. After a long bout of the flu, many days I could've used the third eyelid myself!

Jan (Thanks For 2 Day) said...

Hi Kim,
Your photos in the posts that FOLLOW this one are out of this world! I adore all of the bird shots and what a variety you've had! Your camera seems to really do a superb job with getting these photos! (Of course the photographer is quite capable, as well:))
My question here is, do you know that I cannot leave a message on any of the posts that follow this one? I just wanted to say hi-hope you are doing well during your Feb. Ohio CHILL! We're quite cold here in VA today too...but no snow. It's in low 40's today which probably would be like a sauna to you right now, but there's a strong breeze and it just feels so nippy!
Will be glad to be able to leave comments in posts that follow. Hope to hear from you soon!

spookydragonfly said...

Hi Jan...Thank you for leaving a comment here, I appreciate it! I probably should've left an explanation on my posts that I turned off my comments. I felt that lately alot of my photos have been fairly repetitive, so I figured I'd give my guests a break on the comments. Quite a few people contacted me one way or another about this, so I decided to turn them back on. As far as the weather goes...I am SO ready for spring! Thanks again for stopping back, Jan.