With protection from ants – Interesting breeding behaviour of Rufous Woodpecker

The Rufous Woodpecker is a chestnut-rufescent bird that is about the same size or slightly larger than a Common Myna. It has fine black bars crossed on the wings, tail, and upper parts, as well as on the underparts to a lesser extent. This bird seems to have a dark eye patch, a red iris, pale-edged throat feathers, and brown feet. The Rufous Woodpecker is a shy bird that typically lives in pairs. It appears to prefer open forests but seeks shade.

Woodpeckers are well-known peckers of wood, chiselling into the wood for food. Most woodpeckers have powerful beaks that they use to dig holes in trees for nests. They are primary cavity nesters, meaning they build their cavity nests. The Rufous Woodpecker’s nest, on the other hand, is excavated within the nest of acrobat ants (Crematogaster sp.). That is incredible because it also preys on ants. It’s an excellent example of how one animal can benefit another. Ant nests are softer and easier to dig than tree trunks. These woodpeckers have also been observed foraging for ant larvae at termite nests.

The Rufous Woodpecker drills its nest cavity within the carton nests of ants, which are swarming with these alive and ferocious insects, in trees ranging in height from 3 to 15 meters, or occasionally in holes excavated in tree trunks. The ant’s rage over the bird’s eggs has been observed to fade quickly and is thought to be transferred to any intruder who attempts to steal the eggs.

One explanation for this behaviour is that the lactic acid secreted by ants while the parent birds feed on them gets smeared on the birds, their eggs, and, later, their hatchlings. As a result, the ants mistake the winged visitors for members of their nest. Ant nests are frequently freshly constructed around the time that the bird’s breeding season begins. The bird has been seen making nesting cavities with ant nests built the previous year or even earlier.

In some cases, the birds stay in the same ant nest for at least two seasons. Although the nests are not newly built in these cases, they are frequently repaired during the breeding season of the birds. Both males and females are in charge of excavating ant nests. The nest is incubated by both parents, and the young are fed by regurgitation. Nestlings’ diet consists primarily of regurgitated ants, ant larvae, pupae, and eggs. Do you think the Rufous Woodpecker is brilliant because it nests in the ant nest and the fledglings feed on the ants in their nest?

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