Each time a woodpecker drums on a tree to find food, build a nest, or attract a mate, it gets hit with up to 1,400 g’s of force—14 times the amount that would trigger a concussion in humans. Thankfully, the bird has a few ways to dampen the blow: built-in shock absorbers, an enlarged brain case, and a specialized beak and skull that redirect pressure away from its head. As if that wasn’t enough, it can also wrap its tongue around the back of its head to serve as a cushion (when the organ isn’t being deployed to trap dinner, of course).
These handy traits have inspired protective gear for concussion-heavy sports such as football and bike racing. The idea is simple: By modeling helmets and collars after a bird that’s built to headbang, outfitters can decrease the risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is incredibly common in NFL players, as well as other brain diseases.
Or so the theory goes. While woodpeckers seem to fare okay in the long run, it’s not known if their brains suffer from underlying damage.