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Tap patiently, hit safely: a preying tactic of the White Woodpecker on social wasp nests

Ivan Sazima


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.

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