Protective ocular mechanisms in woodpeckers

Eye (Lond). 2007 Jan;21(1):83-9. doi: 10.1038/sj.eye.6702163. Epub 2005 Nov 18.


Aims: Woodpeckers possess mechanisms protecting the eye from shaking/impact. Mechanisms available to woodpeckers but not humans may help explain some eye injuries in Shaken Baby syndrome (SBS).

Methods: Gross dissection and histologic examination of eyes and orbits of seven woodpeckers.

Results: All birds showed restricted axial globe movement due to the tight fit within the orbit and fascial connections between the orbital rim and sclera. The sclera was reinforced with cartilage and bone, the optic nerve lacked redundancy, and the vitreous lacked attachments to the posterior pole retina.

Conclusions: Woodpecker eyes differ from human infants by an inability of the globe to move axially in the orbit, the sclera to deform, and the vitreous to shear the retina. These findings support current hypotheses that abusive acceleration-deceleration-induced ocular injury in human infants may be related to translation of vitreous within the globe and the globe within the orbit. The woodpecker presents a natural model resistant to mechanical forces that have some similarity to SBS.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / anatomy & histology*
  • Birds / physiology
  • Eye / anatomy & histology*
  • Eye Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Eye Movements
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Ocular Physiological Phenomena*
  • Oculomotor Muscles / anatomy & histology
  • Orbit / anatomy & histology
  • Sclera / physiology
  • Shaken Baby Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Species Specificity
  • Vitreous Body / physiology