Woodpeckers Lap Up Ants With Their Long Sticky Tongues

Both the Pileated Woodpecker and Northern Flicker can eat hundreds of the insects at a time.

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This is BirdNote.

An expert woodcarver is hard at work—preparing a picnic. This Pileated Woodpecker is hammering its massive chisel of a bill against the trunk of a cedar tree, making large, rectangular incisions, some nearly a foot long.

Inside, if she’s lucky, are thousands of delicious black carpenter ants. And this woodpecker is perfectly equipped to harvest the treasure she’s uncovered. She has a sticky tonguethat’s more than five inches long!that she stretches into the trunk, lapping up hundreds of ants and swallowing them whole. Ants make up more than half of her diet.

Woodpeckers, as a group, eat far more ants than most other birds do. Many other vertebrates tend to avoid ants because of their stings or because of the noxious chemicals they contain, like formic acid. Another member of the woodpecker family, the Northern Flicker, is known to have ingested over five thousand ants in one sitting.

So, while the Pileated Woodpecker and Northern Flicker will eat lots of different kinds of insects and berries, there’s nothing quite like a feast of ants. 

For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.



Written by Bob Sundstrom

Narrator: Mary McCann

Sounds of the Pileated Woodpecker provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by D.S. Herr and G.A. Keller.

© 2019 Tune In to Nature.org      August 2016 / 2019 

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