Downy Woodpecker with porcupine quill

As a bander I often get to see many weird things in the birds we catch that might otherwise go undetected just by glancing at a bird in a tree. Today we caught this Downy Woodpecker who had, at some point, had a rather unfortunate run-in with a porcupine. This is something I’d never seen before: a wild bird that had been jabbed by a porcupine quill. Even stranger was that the bird in question clearly was not a species to have any interest in the porcupine as dinner. My hypothesis is that the porcupine, during the course of its foraging for leaf buds, got a little too close to the Downy’s nest cavity, and the Downy, raging with hormones as he is at this time of year, would have perceived the porcupine as a threat and tried driving it away.

The bird, fortunately, seemed in good spirits and health, aside from this quill that was sticking out from its upper breast. One of the volunteers in today happened to have worked at a wildlife clinic and so had much experience with pulling quills. I held the woodpecker and she carefully and cleanly removed the quill with a quick and decisive tug using a pair of tweezers. I’m sure the Downy was grateful to have the thing gone, even if he was too pissed with us handling him to be able to express it to us…

Interestingly, this wasn’t the first misfortune to befall this bold little guy in the 11 months or so since he hatched from his egg. At some point in that period he’d also managed to break off a portion of his bill. Goodness only knows how. It was still regrowing, but given his good health it didn’t seem to have adversely affected him too much.


Author: Seabrooke

Author of Peterson Field Guide to Moths. #WriteOnCon Mastermind. Writer of action/thriller SF/F YA. Story junkie. Nature nut. Tea addict. Mother. Finding happiness in the little things. Twitter: @SeabrookeN / @SeabrookeLeckie

13 thoughts on “Quilled”

  1. I have removed quills from several species who were suffering badly,,,, found it less damaging to snip off the quill top deflating the air filled quill, collapsing the spur, then a quick tug. Always gives me a very uncomfortable gut feeling

  2. With any luck, you will find a porcupine with a bit of downy bill sticking out of it. Do not try to remove it.

  3. My goodness! I never would have expected to see something like that!
    We had a quill adventure this week…my little dog found a baby porcupine…and ended up with a snoutful of prickles. Ouch, indeed!

  4. Interesting find! Poor guy. I’m glad you mentioned their beaks re-grow after being broken. This spring I encountered a female Yellow-shafted Flicker with her upper break broken. She seemed to be foraging just the same and I hoped it would repair over time.

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