In case you've been wondering, now we know: Woodpeckers will sometimes eat the brains of baby birds. They sure will. And not only that, but they will drill their way to the good stuff with vigor.
This disturbing yet fascinating revelation comes by way of Smithsonian Magazine, where writer (and Audubon contributor) Jason Bittel investigated a YouTube video posted in 2015. The clip shows a Gila Woodpecker pecking through the skulls of two Mourning Dove chicks to feast on their brains and blood. (The video is below, but be warned: It's graphic.)
According to the story, the footage was originally taken by an ornithologist studying the breeding habits of birds. The woodpecker, however, had different plans. To find out more about this surprising behavior, Bittel talked to several bird experts, including Audubon's Geoff LeBaron. While LeBaron hadn't seen or heard of such behavior from Gilas before, another researcher who studies woodpeckers told Bittel that he had. In fact, he's also seen Red-bellied and Red-headed Woodpeckers dine on other birds. Turns out, woodpeckers are not discriminating eaters.
While the video is shocking, what's going on here is simply nature. Birds are living things, and all living things need food. Where and how they get that food doesn't matter. We know some birds eat other birds, and our video last year showing a Bald Eagle nabbing an Osprey chick from a nest went viral. What makes this specific account so cringe-inducing is the defenselessness of the chicks. Well, that and the force with which the woodpecker strikes their skulls before lapping up everything inside. But hey, nature.
If you can handle it, we definitely recommend checking out the whole story, which explores the behavior and how it might have evolved more in-depth. It's a fascinating and fun read.