Rufous Piculet – Feeding observations

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“I had an opportunity today to watch an adult female Rufous Piculet (Sasia abnormis abnormis) forage for about 15 minutes and want to offer some observations. I wish I had a tripod to do a video but I was too far in to go back.

1. Firstly foraging height
“Winkler, H. & Christie, D.A. (2016). Rufous Piculet (Sasia abnormis). In the Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive states that “forages at low and middle levels, generally no higher than 5 m above ground”. I have seen it forage at lower heights but today, as my neck can attest to, it was predominantly foraging at 6-8 meters high.

2. Prey
“Wells (2007). The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Volume 2 states that prey “includes ants, spiders and beetles”.

“Winkler, H. & Christie, D.A. (2016) HBW states that prey include “Ants and their larvae, and small bark beetles; soft insects and their larvae; also spiders.” (they are also the authors of Woodpeckers: An Identification Guide to the Woodpeckers of the World Hardcover, 1995).

PiculatRuf-feed [AmarSingh] 1

“Today I saw two types of prey taken. They first is the occasional spider. Images above and below show the bird inspecting spider nests for prey. These were quick, decisive events.

PiculatRuf-feed [AmarSingh] 2

“The second prey was most likely ants that were obtained by ‘excavating small holes, then inserting the long tongue to obtain prey’ (Winkler & Christie 2016).

PiculatRuf-feed [AmarSingh] 3

“Images above and below show tongue probing of holes. These were longer activities where the bird stopped to probe, use the bill to excavate and often left bark scaring/tree damage.
PiculatRuf-feed [AmarSingh] 5

“I saw many more of these (below) that show the intensity of probing and bark damage in a composite.

PiculatRuf-feed [AmarSingh] 6

3. Foraging techniques
“On the whole feeding was general very fast with rapid movements from branch to branch, or tree to tree. There was some movement up or down a tree branch but very unlike the progressive, step-wise behaviour of many other woodpeckers. The bird is very acrobatic. Foraging is better described in bamboo stems in various sources. But feeding also occurs in dead braches, creepers, thin stems, gingers, shrubs, saplings (Wells 2007, Winkler & Christie 2016).

PiculatRuf-feed [AmarSingh] 4

“Watching the bird flit from branch to branch and between trees, with many ‘non-productive’ ‘bill tapping’ episodes on many small branches makes me a little suspicious. The tree shown in these images has a nice clean bark. I wonder if the bill taping damages the bark which then allows entry by prey (ants and larvae) (below).

PiculatRuf-feed [AmarSingh] 8

“The majority of the bird’s activities were these fast bill tapping episodes that were not productive of prey. It was either looking for hollow, potential prey sites (by some ‘echo’ mechanism) or else it was damaging the bark for future benefit; I tend to think the latter. See below that shows numerous holes created in the bark by the bird.”

PiculatRuf-feed [AmarSingh] 7

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
15th September 2016

Location: Kledang-Sayong Forest Reserve, Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Habitat: A trail along primary jungle

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