The beauty of Nature photography is that, apart from the pictures themselves, there are often hidden gems of information buried in many of the images shot. All it takes is a little digging over the Internet to pry them out!
Take for instance some images of rufous woodpeckers I took in Goa during the Republic Day week of 2017.
Over the five days we were there I was surprised to get an unusually high number of sightings of these otherwise elusive birds. Initially I assumed that it was the same bird I was seeing over and over again. With due credit to Mr. Google, I learnt that the male has a crimson patch just below the eyes that is absent in the female, replaced instead by a dull buff color.
This was definitely a pair.
When a pair of rufous woodpeckers move into the neighbourhood the logical next question is: Were they nesting here? And if so, then where?
And this is where I came up with another delightful nugget of information!
These woodpeckers lay their eggs within the nest of acrobat ants (crematogaster).
The ant nest is a large football-sized greyish structure built on trees. It is placed anywhere between 3-15 metres off the ground and is made of twigs and leaves. The woodpeckers peck a circular opening on its surface and from there construct a short passage that leads to a central nesting chamber.
These are large ants that are known to ferociously defend their nest. How and why they allow the birds not only to intrude but also go ahead and lay their eggs bang in the middle of their nest is still a mystery.
One school of thought suggests that there is a symbiotic relationship between the ants and the birds.
Ordinarily, ants love to feast on bird eggs and conversely, ants form a large part of the woodpeckers diet.
In this instance however, the ants do not attack the birds or their eggs (even though a number of eggs and larvae are killed in the nest-building process). In return the birds do not harm the resident ants and even protect them by driving away other predatory birds.
Another theory suggests that initially the ants attack the intruding birds. Over time the birds and their eggs (and subsequently the chicks) get covered by the ants’ lactic acid secretions causing the latter to mistake them as one of their own thus ignoring them.
Irrespective which of the theory is right, it still makes for interesting reading!
A woodpecker pecks on wood to create a nest or in search of food. It will also ‘drum’ on wood in rhythmic succession to mark its territory or to attract a mate.
I must admit, just the thought of having a family of resident woodies is quite thrilling. Enough to have me desperately searching for a reason to revisit Goa in the very near future!
Just for the record there is a large insect nest on a tree not more than twenty yards from my front porch that fits the description of an acrobat ant nest.
I wonder if…? Maybe… You think…?!