Weasel and Woodpecker Go On an Epic Adventure

weasel woodpecker

Photo Credit: Martin Le-May via BBC

Did you hear the one about the weasel and the woodpecker? What sounds, and looks, like it MUST be a joke, is actually a real photo taken by amateur photographer Martin Le-May, who snapped it at Hornchurch Country Park in east London.

This weasel and woodpecker truly went on an epic adventure, although the tale is probably not what you might think. And certainly not one for a children’s story book.

Le-May told the BBC that he was taking a walk with his wife through the park in the hopes of her seeing a green woodpecker for the first time. As they were strolling, he heard a woodpecker distress call, and when he turned around he saw a weasel riding on the bird’s back as it flew through the air.

The photographer explained, “As we walked we heard a distressed squawking and I saw that flash of green. So hurriedly I pointed out to Ann the bird and it settled into the grass behind a couple of small silver birch trees. Both of us trained our binoculars and it occurred that the woodpecker was unnaturally hopping about like it was treading on a hot surface.

“Lots of wing flapping showing that gloriously yellow/white colorr interspersed with the flash of red head feathers. Just after I switched from my binoculars to my camera the bird flew across us and slightly in our direction; suddenly it was obvious it had a small mammal on its back and this was a struggle for life. The woodpecker landed in front of us and I feared the worst. I guess though our presence, maybe 25 meters away, momentarily distracted the weasel. The woodpecker seized the opportunity and flew up and away into some bushes away to our left. Quickly the bird gathered its self respect and flew up into the trees and away from our sight.

“The woodpecker left with its life. The weasel just disappeared into the long grass, hungry.”

Weasels don’t typically prey on woodpeckers, but wildlife expert Lucy Cooke told Snopes.com that the weasel is “fearless” and will often attack animals larger than itself. Cooke also said that the average female weasel only weighs as much as a candy bar, so it isn’t impossible for a woodpecker to fly with the mammal on its back.

She noted, “This is a truly extraordinary image. The green woodpecker is a ground-feeding bird, but weasels normally attack rabbits. The woodpecker is not its usual prey. But weasels are fearless. A female weasel weighs less than a Mars Bar but is as ferocious as a lion, so this is why the woodpecker would have been able to take off with it on its back.”