Beaverton Bird Watch: Mother (Nature) Knows Best

By Anne Harrisbrg_logo_stacked

Did you know that woodpeckers are teaching scientists how to prevent concussions in humans? Perhaps you have wondered how these birds manage to drill holes in your house leaving only you with a headache. Experts leading the effort to save the lives of athletes and soldiers by redesigning their helmets think they know why, and it is the woodpeckers native to the Beaverton area that best demonstrate the principal.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology (, a great place to learn about birds, attributes the woodpecker’s talent for hammering away unharmed to the “classic woodpecker body plan.”

C’mon, you’ve heard ‘em. They sound like a rapid-fire BB gun in the hands of a crazed carny at the county fair. And you’ve probably seen them, too: the Northern Flicker Colaptes Auratus, and its two little buddies, the Downy Picoides Pubescens and Hairy Leuconotopicus Villosus Woodpeckers (more about these doppelgängers next time). They all have “a straight, chisel-like bill, blocky head, wide shoulders, and assume a straight-backed posture as they lean away from tree limbs and onto their tail feathers” for leverage.

But it is more than their resemblance to football players at game time or soldiers armored for a strike that protects woodpeckers from concussive brain injuries. It is also their tongues, especially the freakishly long tongues of our local species that they use to harpoon or rake in their prey.

This mechanism requires specialize neck bones that wrap all the way around their heads like bubble pack. Helmets with collars like this will save lives.

Thanks, Woody!

Anne Harris is a local author who finds watching her avian neighbors quite fascinating as they loudly inhabit a mixed stand of conifers and broadleaf trees behind her home. “Provide food and they will come,” is what she discovered, and has been avidly studying their diverse habits ever since.