A weasel riding on the back of a flying woodpecker is something you may expect to see in a cartoon. But as unbelievable as it sounds, it actually happened. The weasel’s crazy ride was documented in a series of photographs by amateur photographer Martin Le-May of Essex in the UK.
He spotted the incredible phenomenon at Hornchurch Country Park in east London while he was out taking a stroll with his wife. He said he “heard a distressed squawking noise and feared the worst.”
He “soon realized it was a woodpecker with some kind of small mammal on its back.”
In order to get a better view he and his wife hid behind a tree with a pair of binoculars. What they witnessed next is shocking; they saw an intense struggle between a green woodpecker and a weasel, and right before their eyes, the woodpecker took flight…with the weasel still clinging to its back.
Le-May was able to photograph the event, and the results went viral after being picked up by numerous news outlets and shared thousands of times on social media.
Dr. Stuart Marsden of Manchester Metropolitan University, who has studied the green woodpeckers extensively, told BBC Earth, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The green woodpecker, a ground-feeding bird, is not the usual prey of a weasel, who prefer to go after rabbits for their meals. Weasels have been known to go after the eggs and babies of woodpeckers, but not usually adult birds.
Dr. Marsden believes that the woodpecker, whose diet consists mostly of ants, was probably feeding in the grass when it was attacked.
Wildlife expert Lucy Cooke told the BBC News Channel that “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.”
The green woodpecker typically grows to about 12.5 inches in length. Male weasels are about 7.9 to 8.6 inches, and females are normally around 5.9 to 7 inches.
Green woodpeckers weigh between 5.6 and 7.8 ounces, while adult male weasels weigh in between 3.7 and 4.6 ounces, and females are around 1.9 to 2.4 ounces.
In regards to weasels, Dr. Marsden said “They are incredible predators, so I don’t think it’s that remarkable that one tried to take a woodpecker. What is remarkable was that it was captured on camera.”
For those wondering what happened to the woodpecker, the photographer said “I think we may have distracted the weasel, as when the woodpecker landed it managed to escape and the weasel ran into the grass.”