Woodpecker is one of the most colourful birds of nature. For a photographer, it is a treat to watch. It can easily make a birdwatcher out of a layman. There are 200 species of woodpeckers in the world and at least thirty of them are found in India. They are indicator species. Their presence in the forest is a sign that the forest is healthy. Rufous Woodpecker is one of twelve species of woodpeckers occurring in the Western Ghats.
The main diet of the Rufous woodpecker is black tree ants. One of the main items in the diet of the black tree ants is bird eggs. When the woodpeckers get ready to lay their eggs, they will find a nest of the black tree ant and put their eggs in the ant's nest. It will make an opening in the side of the nest and will carve out a six-inch-wide chamber in the centre of the nest. While this is going on, the ants do not attack the woodpecker even though some ant larvae are killed as the nest is being built. Once the bird has laid its eggs, it will not eat any of the ants of this colony nor will it allow any other woodpeckers to do so. Ants and Rufous woodpeckers are friends and they help each other …they have a symbiotic relationship. After the Rufus woodpecker lays its eggs in the ant nest and when the egg hatches, the mother brings food for the babies. The babies eat a little, but also litter the nest with crumbs, and the ants are, thus, served food right where they are. That is amazing because the Rufous woodpecker also preys on the ants. But by some freak of nature the ant-eating woodpecker and the egg-eating ants manage to live in the same house together and neither touches the other!
Ants are considered to be the most intelligent of all insects with a highly developed sense of community living. An ant that finds a scrap of food too large to carry away will return to its nest for assistance. And if one ant finds a large heap of food and another a small one, the one with the large heap will bring more helpers to his aid than the one with the small heap. No wonder, then, that the black tree ant has come to an understanding about co-existence with the Rufous woodpecker!
Journeying through the pantheon of forms that make up life on this planet, we encounter a host of different relationships between species; while there are those that hunt each other down for food, there are also those that only feed off the decaying material of other organisms, and yet others whose interdependent behaviour increases their joint chances of survival.
I was struck by this interesting role reversal between the predator and the prey...
As Thoreau commented in Walden: Or, Life In The Woods, “We need the tonic of wildness…we can never have enough of nature to inspire us.”
PS: Incidentally the Rufous woodpecker is also the only bird from India to feature in the legendary David Attenborough’s ‘Life of Birds’ series!
Glimpses of this bird at: