You may have seen an incredible photo of what appears to be a baby weasel riding the back of a woodpecker, possibly mid-flight and mid-murder, as captured by East Londoner Martin Le-May. What? Is this even possible? We asked a few experts whether a woodpecker can actually carry the weight of a weasel on its back.


Can a woodpecker carry a weasel on its back?. Image 1.

Craig A. Ludwig

Scientific Data Manager of Birds Division at 
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

A lot of weasels are not very heavy. They look bigger than they are. Especially in the winter, they're mostly fur. Woodpeckers don't usually carry very heavy stuff. A woodpecker may weigh more than a weasel depending on the species.

The whole thing sounds kind of suspicious. Strange things happen in nature, it could just be a weird thing. I certainly wouldn't expect a woodpecker to attack a weasel or a weasel to attack a woodpecker honestly. I would be very skeptical of it, but I couldn't rule it out.


Can a woodpecker carry a weasel on its back?. Image 2.

Scott Edwards

Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Curator of Ornithology at Harvard University

We don’t know a lot about how much weight individual birds can carry. I can say that when scientists put a radio tag on a bird, they make sure that it’s not more than 5% of the bird's body weight and that’s pushing it.

I’d guess the weasel is about the same weight as the woodpecker. Due to hollow bones and air sacs, etc., birds are much lighter, and without the feathers they appear very tiny. It’s unprecedented!


Can a woodpecker carry a weasel on its back?. Image 3.

Jeff Groth

Lab Manager,  Division of Vertebrate Zoology - Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History

Most birds can't carry anything heavier than themselves. That's a European Green Woodpecker, and it's fairly large for a woodpecker. It weighs well over a 100 grams and woodpeckers are very strong birds.

The weasel would be cutting it close for the maximum.