Common Flameback’s strange death

posted in: Miscellaneous | 7

KC Tsang was walking along his favourite forest patch on the morning of 17th April 2009 when he noticed a female Common Flameback (Dinopium javanense) perching dead still (left top). To him it was a strange sight as woodpeckers are constantly moving, usually hammering with its sharp bill into the wood of a tree trunk of branch. On moving closer he noticed that her bill was stuck in the hole of the casuarina (Casuarina equisetifolia) branch.

How did the cavity managed to trap her bill such that the bird ended up dead, stuck to the branch? With ants swarming all over the carcass and feasting on it (left bottom)? It must have died a few days ago, otherwise the body would have fallen away, leaving the head and neck dangling from the branch.

Intrigued by the strange sight, KC circulated his images in the various e-forums he subscribe to.

KC was not disappointed as he received a number of comments:

“That’s really amazing! My only guess is that she may have got her bill stuck somehow, or else had a sudden heart attack or something. – David Bakewell

“This is a one-in-a-lifetime observation. …The hole has become large and deep. The feathers around the bill may have become entangled with the rough edges and prevented the bird from pulling out his head. Further, the rapidly drying sap could have added to make it difficult for the bird to dislodge itself. He found himself wedged in a sticky situation!” – Goh Si Guim, Singapore

“That picture is AMAZING! At first I thought may be the sticky sap could have trapped the bill in place but I don’t think the bird would have been so stupid to have chosen an unsuitable tree. So the only thing I can think of is coincidence of misfortune. That is, the bird could have suffered an unrelated death, such as a heart attack or the repeated impact exposing a weakness in this particular bird and breaking its neck, and by coincidence was left wedged in the hole perhaps by a combination of the leverage of its bill and the sticky sap.” – Stephen Christopher, Spain

“Certainly looks unusual! Perhaps the inside of the trunk is weak and when the bird went after a grub it pushed in so deep and perhaps upwards, that it could not extricate its bill from the hole. Does not look like an act of foul play to me. Misadventure is the verdict! It would probably have taken the bird a day or more to die of starvation. Poor thing!” – Willi.

“That’s a pretty bizarre sight. I suppose it’s possible to wedge a beak into a hole in much the same way as getting your head caught in the railings. Poor thing must have been frantic. Only other thing I can think of is it mistimed a panic flight due to being spooked, was caught by the beak and broke its own neck. Either way, that’s got to be fairly unique” – Mike, Blackpool, UK.

“That is odd. I know woodpeckers can generate a lot of force on hitting an object with their beak, but if it can’t generate the same force in the opposite direction (should the beak become lodged), I guess the odd one might get stuck. I’m not sure if the neck would be broken in this case, or the body would probably be hanging straight downwards. Probably starved to death whilst unable to extract its beak.” – colonelboris, UK.

7 Responses


    I would say, suicide Singapore style- recession hitting too hard!.

    Sorry KC,I did not get to see your initial posting as I had to thrash it. The resolution was too big for my box to handle.


  2. K C Tsang

    Hi Daisy, I am sorry to read that you have to thrash postings that are too big for your box to handle, my only suggestion is that an upgrade to your internet capability is long over due.


    K C

  3. Ding Li

    Probably the long tongue got stuck somehow…rather than the bill and she couldn’t extricate

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