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Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia, 22(3), 292-296 SHORTCOMMUNICATION September 2014 Tap patiently, hit safely: a preying tactic of the White Woodpecker on social wasp nests Ivan Sazima Museu de Zoologia - Universidade Estadual de Campinas, CP 6109, CEP 13083-970, Campinas, SP, Brazil. firstname.lastname@example.org Received on 9 April 2014. Accepted on 26 June 2014. ABSTRACT: The Neotropical woodpecker Melanerpes candidus is one of the few bird species known to attack wasp or bee colonies to feed on the brood and honey of these colonial stinging insects. I describe herein a foraging tactic that lessen the risk posed by the nest-defending Paulistinha wasps (Polybia paulista) and allows this woodpecker to feed on the brood with no or little disturbance by the wasps. The bird taps repeatedly on the branch that supports the paper wasp nest, about 2-3 m below the nest. During this process, the nest-defending wasps attack the woodpecker. When the attack is intense, the bird retreats from the nest vicinity only to return instants later. After a while, the woodpecker climbs slowly but steadily towards the nest while tapping continuously, the wasps retreating to the nest top and ﬂeeing away. With the nest largely wasp-free, the bird perches on the nest and preys on the brood. This subtle foraging tactic of M. candidus and its driving the wasps away from their nest contrasts with the sudden, rash, and nest- damaging attacks described for other bird species that prey on wasp and bee broods, such the Neotropical falcon Ibycter americanus and the Old World buzzards of the genus Pernis. KEYWORDS: Melanerpes candidus, specialized predation, social Hymenoptera. Very few bird species attack bee and wasp colonies to feed Herein I provide a documented record of a foraging on the brood and honey of these stinging, nest-defending tactic of the White Woodpecker while preying on the insects. The most iconic plunderers of wasp and bee paper nests of a small polistine wasp in Southeastern nests are the Honey Buzzards, species of the Old World Brazil. I comment on this tactic and compare it brieﬂy to accipitrid genus Pernis (Thiollay 1994). These birds boldly the foraging tactics of the Red-throated Caracara and the attack wasp or bee colonies, break a comb piece and ﬂy Honey Buzzards, besides providing a few insights on this away to feed on the brood (Figure 1a). Alternatively, they woodpecker pillager and its prey. consume the brood on the spot or carry comb pieces to I observed the foraging behaviour of the White feed their nestlings (Thiollay 1994, Bhardwaj 2008). Woodpecker on paper wasp nests on three occasions A less known wasp nest marauder is the Red- at the Parque Ecológico Prof. Hermógenes de Freitas throated Caracara (Ibycter americanus), a New World Leitão F (22°48'42''S, 47°04'21''W), Campinas, falcon (White et al. 1994). This raptor makes bold and São Paulo, South-eastern Brazil. This park has a total quick nest-damaging attacks to drive the wasps away area of 13.4 ha, of which about 75 % are occupied by (McCann et al. 2013), and once the nest defenders are a pond surrounded by trees, bushes and grass patches gone the bird feeds on the brood (Figure 1b). Conversely, (see Corbo et al. 2013 for a sketchy map). The foraging this falcon breaks pieces of the nest and feeds on the brood birds were observed with the naked eye and recorded and adults on the pieces fallen to the ground (Sick 1997). with a 70-300 telephoto zoom lens mounted on a SLR Besides these two raptor genera, there is another camera from a distance of about 10 m. Throughout pillager on wasp and bee nests: the White Woodpecker the observational sessions I used the “ad libitum” and (Melanerpes candidus), a species conﬁned to South “sequence” samplings (Altmann 1965), both of which America (Winkler & Christie 2002). This bird is long are adequate for opportunistic records. The description known as a wasp nest marauder feeding on the brood of the foraging tactic is based on the best-documented and honey (Kerr 1892, Chubb 1910, Hempel 1949, episode. Seven wasp individuals and small papery comb Sick 1997), but to the best of my knowledge its foraging pieces containing a few cells are housed as vouchers at tactics are mentioned en passant or are poorly described the hymenopteran collection of the Museu de Zoologia in the available records that mention attack on wasp nests da Universidade Estadual de Campinas (access number (see references above). ZUEC-HYM 134). Tap patiently, hit safely: a preying tactic of the White Woodpecker on social wasp nests Ivan Sazima the attacking wasps, but when their number increased the bird scratched its head, retreated along the branch and ﬁnally ﬂed away only to return instants later and resume its branch tapping. When it was about 1 m from the nest the bird began to climb slowly but steadily upwards while tapping continuously (Figure 2c), a behaviour that likely caused the wasps to retreat to the nest top or ﬂee away deserting the nest (Figure 2c-d). Only when the nest surface was essentially wasp-free, the woodpecker approached the nest from behind and quickly perched on its surface (Figure 2e), opened the outer layer and began to feed on the wasp brood within the comb cells. The process from when I ﬁrst noticed the tapping to the attack to the nest lasted 23 min (1224-1247 h). However, it probably lasted longer as its outset was not recorded. While perched on the nest the woodpecker pulled its head within the nest to reach the brood, and from time to time it tore out pieces of the outer envelope (Figure 2f ), thus enlarging its feeding surface and reaching deeper into the nest. The bird worked on the wasp nest for 18 min (1247- 1305 h) before it left. At 1304 h it was joined by another male, which attempted to balance itself on the nest together with the ﬁrst bird. The second bird left at 1307 h, joining the small group perched on another tree about 5 m away. The three birds vocalised and climbed on the FIGURE 1. Two bird species renowned for raiding wasp or branches, but no one came back to the partially destroyed bee colonies. The Oriental Honey Buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus : nest for the ensuing 15 min that I remained near the tree. Accipitridae) ﬂies away from a beehive with a comb piece in its talons The next day I inspected the further damaged nest, which (a); the Red-throated Caracara (Ibycter americanus: Falconidae) uses indicates that the woodpeckers returned later to feed on its bill to dismantle a paper wasp nest ﬁxed to a tree trunk (b). Photo the remaining brood. credits: Chongyew Tan (a); Christian Pachaud (b). I tested the reaction of the Paulistinha wasp towards a potential predator on an intact nest at the study area, The best-substantiated episode of the White tapping gently the branch about 2 m below the nest, an Woodpecker (Melanerpes candidus) preying on a colony action that caused the wasps to cover the nest surface and of the Paulistinha paper wasp (Polybia paulista) was ﬂy nearby. After 10 min, I cautiously advanced about 30 recorded on 22 February 2014 at noon. When I arrived at cm towards the nest, still tapping gently, and was almost the scene (1224 h), the foraging behaviour was already in instantly attacked by a swarm of 20-30 wasps that aimed course and, thus, I am unable to tell how long the whole at, and successfully stung, my head and face. The wasps episode lasted. followed me as far as about 5 m away from their colony. A small woodpecker group (three individuals) was When attacking paper wasp colonies, the White calling and ﬂying from one branch to another of an ant Woodpecker employs a subtle tactic to reach, and feed on, tree (Triplaris americana) about 12 m tall. Upon a close the brood of the aggressively defended nest of polistine inspection, I observed a male that was repeatedly and wasps. As far as I am aware, the attacks of this bird on almost continuously tapping at a section of a particular paper wasps’ and stingless bees’ colonies remain poorly branch (Figure 2a). Looking higher at this branch, I described, if at all. Most authors simply state that groups noticed a wasp nest (Figure 2b) whose surface and the of this woodpecker attack and break into wasp or bee lower section of the supporting branch were covered with nests and do not elaborate further (Hempel 1949, Sick highly alert wasps, most of them moving actively with 1997, Patterer et al. 2003, Winkler & Christie 2002). open wings and some ﬂying nearby. The wasp colony was Although a small group of the White Woodpecker at about 8 m from the ground and the bird was tapping was actually recorded near the wasp colony, only one at a distance of about 2-3 m below the nest. individual worked actively towards a situation to minimise While the woodpecker was tapping on the branch the wasp attacks and consequent stings. The continuous, that supported the nest, it was approached and attacked long-lasting and repeated tapping was plausibly the by the nest-defending wasps several times mostly on the most important feature that caused the wasps to desert head and face. The woodpecker snatched and ate some of the nest. Thus, this woodpecker probably relies on this Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia, 22(3), 2014 Tap patiently, hit safely: a preying tactic of the White Woodpecker on social wasp nests Ivan Sazima prolonged tapping to exploit the nest-deserting behaviour the colony is deserted, the bird safely tears the nest and that is characteristic of swarm-founding polistine wasps preys on the brood, as the attack risk from the few wasps in presence of an external stress on the colony (Jeanne remaining nearby is minimal. 1991). This mass desertion (termed absconding swarm) The paper wasp Polybia paulista is regarded as a highly comprise all members of the colony (Hunt 2007) and aggressive species by some authors (Henrique-Simões et al. is regarded as an adaptive response to great stress or 2011), and hardly aggressive by others (Souza et al. 2008). nest destruction, such as that imposed by numerous or However, given the head scratching and ﬂeeing responses persistent predators (West-Eberhard 1982, McCann et by the tapping White Woodpecker and my own painful al., 2013). The White Woodpecker’s tapping behaviour experience, I would classify this wasp species as highly may certainly be regarded as persistent, and as soon as aggressive. Alarm recruitment is recorded for the swarm- a b c d e f FIGURE 2. A foraging tactic employed by the White Woodpecker (Melanerpes candidus) to prey on the paper nest of the Paulistinha wasp Polybia paulista (Vespidae). The woodpecker taps continuously near the base of the branch that supports the wasp colony (a); the bird approaches the colony from below (w), while the alert wasps spread over the nest surface and a section of the supporting branch (b), the woodpecker proceeds to tap and climb upwards while the wasps retreat to the nest top or ﬂee away (c-d); with no active wasps on the colony, the bird climbs to the nest and begins to peck and feed on the wasp brood within the comb cells (e); tearing the outer envelope, the woodpecker enlarges the feeding surface (f ). Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia, 22(3), 2014 Tap patiently, hit safely: a preying tactic of the White Woodpecker on social wasp nests Ivan Sazima founding paper wasp Polybia occidentalis, and probably studies at the park; Sidnei Mateus for friendly support occurs in other polistine species (Jeanne 1991). Alarm and the conﬁrmation of my preliminary identiﬁcation of recruitment seems to occur in P. paulista as well, given the wasps; my family for loving support in the ﬁeld and at the quick appearance of numerous individuals on the nest home; the CNPq for an earlier ﬁnancial support. surface when their colony is disturbed even if slightly but persistently, as exempliﬁed by the tapping woodpecker or myself (present paper). Thus, preying on the brood of this REFERENCES and other polistine colonies that are aggressively defended would require specialised tactics, and the persistent Altmann, J. (1965). Observational study of behavior: sampling methods. Behaviour, 49: 227-267. tapping by the White Woodpecker qualiﬁes as such. Bhardwaj, G.S. (2008). Photo essay: a brief glimpse into the private The brood and possibly honey of colonial stinging world of the Oriental Honey-Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus. 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Ornithology Research – Springer Journals
Published: Sep 1, 2014
Keywords: Melanerpes candidus; specialized predation; social Hymenoptera
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