If you have ever banged a nail into wood and then tried to extract it you will know how hard it is to overcome the friction that holds the nail into the wood.  Woodpeckers are well known for banging their beaks into tree trunks and branches and extracting them at an incredibly rapid rate.  Scientists have wondered if the birds’ beaks ever get stuck, and how could the birds extract them. 

Researchers at the University of Antwerp took high speed videos of black woodpeckers (Dryocopus martius) banging their beaks into wood and it seems their beaks get stuck in about one third of their bangs.  However, they are able to quickly extricate them and carry on banging at approximate three pecks per second. 

The researchers closely studied the video recordings to see how they did this.  The birds do not simply wrench their beaks out – they face the same problem as with the banged in nail.  Instead, they go through a manoeuvre where they rotate the head end of the beak up, leaving the tip still stuck in the wood.  This creates a gap between the upper and lower beak.  They then bend their head slightly forward, which pulls the lower beak back, and closes they gap between the upper and lower beak, but leaves a tiny gap between the lower beak and the wood.  By sliding the upper and lower beaks along one another the bird is able to “walk” its beak out of the wood.  The upper and lower parts of the beak can easily slide on one another as they have smooth keratin surfaces.  All this happens in around 70 milliseconds. 

Scientists have wondered why woodpeckers have flexible joints between their beak and their skull, as having a rigid skull would make their hammering more forceful.  Now we know.  The ability to move different sections of the skull and beak is called cranial kinesis and the researchers concluded their study “demonstrates the counter-intuitive value of maintaining cranial kinesis in a species adapted to deliver forceful impacts.”

References: Inside JEB 1 March 2022; Science (AAAS) News 7 January 2022; Journal of Experimental Biology 1 March 2022, doi: 10.1242/jeb.243787.

Editorial Comment:  This is a surprisingly high rate of woodpeckers getting stuck, which should lead scientists to ask: why would a bird take up banging its beak into trees if it was going to get stuck every third bang? Unless, of course, it already had a means of extricating itself. 

Furthermore, who taught the birds to carry out this precision manoeuvre?  It is not just enough to have flexible joints.  When it gets stuck the bird has recognise the problem as well as have the nervous system control to carry out the exact movement needed. 

It is just as well woodpeckers were designed by the Creator who is smarter than evolution-believing human scientists.  Otherwise partly evolved woodpeckers would get jammed in trees and die out in the Darwinian struggle for life. 

Creation Research News 30 March 2022

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