Subscribe to BirdNote

Sign up to receive a weekly email preview of the following week's shows!

Sign Up
Support BirdNote

Help BirdNote tell more stories, reach more people, and inspire action.


You are here

Woodpeckers Love Ants

Aren't they bitter? Not to a woodpecker!

Woodpeckers - such as this Williamson's Sapsucker - eat far more ants than do most birds. Although many other vertebrates avoid ants because of their stings or the foul taste, the Northern Flicker is known to have ingested over five thousand ants in one sitting! A woodpecker's sticky tongue can reach several inches beyond the tip of its bill, so it can lap up hundreds of ants from their nest. 

Full Transcript



Woodpeckers Love Ants

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote!

[A Pileated Woodpecker calling and hammering on old trunk]
An expert woodcarver is hard at work preparing a picnic. A 16-inch Pileated Woodpecker is hammering its massive chisel of a bill against a cedar trunk, making large, rectangular incisions – some nearly a foot long.
 [Pileated Woodpecker hammering]
This carpenter seeks out another. Within the trunk swarm many thousands of carpenter ants. The half-inch-long black ants have themselves excavated a nesting colony in the heart of the living tree. The woodpecker’s sticky tongue reaches five inches beyond the tip of the bill into the trunk, lapping up hundreds of ants. More than half of the Pileated’s entire food intake may be ants.
Woodpeckers as a group eat far more ants than do most birds, swallowing them whole. Many other vertebrates studiously avoid ants because of their stings or noxious chemical deterrents, like formic acid. Another member of the woodpecker family, the Northern Flicker, is known to have ingested over five thousand ants in one sitting.
While the Pileated Woodpecker and Northern Flicker also eat a variety of other insects and berries, they always love to have a good supply of ants.  
[Repeat call and excavation sounds]
I’m Michael Stein.

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.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2005-2016 Tune In to      August 2016     Narrator: Michael Stein
ID#082605PIWOKPLU     woodpecker-01b

Sights & Sounds

Related topics: