Hawking behaviour by a woodpecker

posted in: Feeding strategy | 1

On December 27th morning, I was at MacRitchie with a British couple, Peter and Rosalie. While watching birds, we observed a number of birds hawking at a termite hatch over trees at the golf course. Termite hatches are always exciting and this proved no different.

Traditional hawking species, such as Blue-tailed Bee-eaters (Merops philippinus), Dollarbirds (Eurystomus orientalis) and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos (Dicrurus paradisus), were joined by, less graceful, opportunist hawkers, such as Javan (Acridotheres javanicus) and Hill Mynas (Gracula religiosa), Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis), Asian Fairy-Bluebirds (Irena puella) and an Indian Cuckoo (Cuculus micropterus). Except for the cuckoo, which flew slowly around the hatch, the other opportunists repeatedly flew out, from branches in the closest trees, to snap up the juicy insects. This method follows that of drongos and flycatchers, and is often called sallying.

While observing this collection of birds enjoying their flying buffet, we also observed a pair of Common Flamebacks (Dinopium javanense) continually sallying out to hawk the termites. I have never seen woodpeckers engage in hawking insects and this was truly a treat for me. Woodpeckers have relatively short wings as they are not designed for this sort of foraging behaviour. Usually, they work trunks and branches of trees. So, seeing a pair of flamebacks sallying to and fro, from the trunk of a tree, to catch winged termites, was somewhat odd. Their “short” wings made them look out of place amidst the other birds engaging in aerial feeding.

It turns out that this hawking behaviour is not unheard of among flamebacks. David Wells, in his reference book “The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula” Volume One, mentions the following under Common Flameback (Foraging and Food) : “Also attracted to emerging alate termites, snapping them up during clumsy aerial sallies through the swarm, with frequent returns to a perch”.

I was pleased to have had the opportunity to observe this unusual foraging behaviour of the Common Flameback woodpecker.

Subaraj Rajathurai
December 2008
(Image by YC Wee)

  1. puella

    […] be published) (required) Website. Click to cancel reply © N.E.E.T. Magazine.com 2005-2010 …Bird Ecology Study Group Hawking behaviour by a woodpeckerWhile watching birds, we observed a number of birds hawking at a termite hatch over trees … […]

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