Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Red-bellied Woodpecker eating a salamander (or lizard)...

Birding Longboat Key, Florida
...now that's not something I see everyday. As a matter of fact, it's the first time I've ever seen it at all! I was birding at Quick Point Nature Preserve on Longboat Key when I heard this Red-bellied Woodpecker tapping at the bark in the tree above me. It was a duller thud than usual, and when I looked up I found out why. He was also pulling at something stretchy. As I focused in with the camera lens, I was surprised to find the "something stretchy" was a salamander. A totally new sight for me. Our woodpeckers tend to stick to the bugs and berries. We have salamanders in Cincy. Lots of them, but they are mostly on the ground or in the creeks. In Florida, they are everywhere--and fair game for a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

After lodging the salamander under the bark, he began alternately tapping and tugging at him. Does anyone know what type of salamander this is likely to be? I haven't a clue.

At first I didn't know if he was eating the salamander or just playing with him. After a while I could tell he was most definitely eating him. The salamander seemed to be dead throughout the ordeal. I didn't see him trying to crawl away. Most of the time he was lodged under the bark.

...this was not a quick process. The woodpecker had to work for his dinner...

...such a strange sight for me, but I guess Florida birders see woodpeckers eating salamanders all the time.

After tugging him loose here, he shoved the salamander back into the crevice in the wood and started pounding away at him again. I didn't get to see how long it would take him to eat all of the salamander (or if even if he would) because a guy with truckload of mulch drove up underneath and scared him away. A little before that a female flew in for a bite, but the male chased her away. I guess he wasn't in the mood for sharing!

47 comments:

Roy said...

Huh! That's a first for me, too. Good catch!

JeniQ said...

ew !!! The whole circle of life thing can be gross hahaha!

Chris said...

Hi Kelly,
what a unique sequence you got. Superb, simply astonishing and sumptuous to be able to see that... Congrats, the pictures are great!

Susan said...

It's always amazing to watch one creature eat another! Shocking really but it shouldn't be. Mind you, seeing him nibble on the sally's toes kind of put me off my feed for a bit!

Amy said...

Wow, great capture of an awesome encounter! What a thing to see!

dAwN said...

Very cool capture!! awesome!

Felicia said...

Neat stuff—I wish I knew what kind of salamander that was, too, and exactly how long it was going to be stored away in that tree!

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Great pictures, Kelly.... That RB was in 'hog' (I mean Salamander) heaven!! Our RB's disappeared recently for a few weeks.... Guess they were busy making whoopie... BUT---they are back at the feeders now. I NEVER have seen a 'baby' Red-bellied. You????

Hugs,
Betsy

Susan Gets Native said...

Good grief, Kelly! That was COOL!

Cherrie said...

A little gross but I know they have to eat. Good pictures!

Kay said...

How interesting! I have never seen a woodpecker eating a lizard--or anything "animal." You took a great series of photos.

Elaine said...

You really captured an interesting interlude here. I never would have thought a woodpecker would eat a salamander. But the more I learn about nature the more I realize how little I know.

Baby Birder said...

Any chance it's a Brown Anole? They are EVERYWHERE in the area of Florida where you were... and based on the long toes you can see in some of the pictures, that's what I'd guess, but I may be wrong, just a guess :)

Here are some pictures for reference.

http://www.duke.edu/~jspippen/herps/brownanole.htm

Kathy A. Johnson said...

And here I thought they only ate insects... Sometimes Nature is a little gross, but always interesting.

Debbie Miller @HooootOwl said...

Wow and yuk! I love moments like these. It is what keeps up going out for more. Great post!

holdingmoments said...

Fascinating bit of observation Kelly.
Great captures too.

Hilke Breder said...

Fascinating sequence, Kelly. In the third picture you can really see how much effort he is putting into pulling the lizard apart, leaning all the way back. I checked on the BNA website and found that, although they forage mostly on trees for smallinsects etc: "Small prey are swallowed whole, and larger prey (e.g., nestling birds, lizards, small mammals, large caterpillars, large insects) are killed by thrashing against trees or pecking, and then are torn to pieces before swallowing". I learned something.

Warren Baker said...

One of our species of woodpecker eats the young of other birds Kelly, it's a very strange thought. We all learn something new everyday :-)

Jenny said...

Amazing! Great you were there to capture it! I think that salamander had a bad day!

eileeninmd said...

Wow, that is a pretty cool sighting. I only see the woodies at my suet feeders.

mick said...

A fantastic series of photos telling that story! Isn't it frustrating when someone comes along and scares off the bird before you have a chance to see the end!

Chris Petrak said...

This is a good series - always interesting to see the variety of food which the birds will take.

Montanagirl said...

Wow-had no idea they'd eat a salamander! How interesting, and good photos.

Dave Lewis said...

Yum...stretchy salamander!

Bob Kaufman said...

Who would have thunk? Great capture of this unusual (?) behavior.

Idaho Birder said...

Spectacularly gory!

Neil said...

What a great series of photos.

NicoleB said...

WOW, great catch!
I haven't seen that either (not many Salamanders in Hungary or Germany and not many Woodpeckers here ;) )

Phil said...

A super set of shots as usual Kelly. Woodpeckers are just so colourful and entertaining.

Mumsy said...

Fantastic capture! Your photos are stunning, and love all the birds on your blog!

Jayne said...

I am still trying to catch up on all my blog reading!

How cool you caught this Kelly! I never knew they'd eat a salamander!

Kerri said...

What an incredible series of shots! I've never seen them eat anything like that either!! WOW!

Sarah Knight said...

Ouch, poor salamander!
Awesome photos, that is surely an interesting sight!

Johnny Nutcase said...

ugh! Cool sighting but having just looked for and seen a bunch of different salamanders the other day, i don't like seeing this guy dead! I never would have thought of a woodpecker eating one, but i get surprised by bird's choice of lunch often! Nice series of photos!

Steve Borichevsky said...

MMMMMmmmmMMMM! Lizard, it's whats for dinner.

Say, I've never seen a woodpecker on a salamander befor. Pretty cool.

Abraham said...

I have seen the male here more often than the female. I have only seen her once or twice all winter and spring but she is around. I had never seen one eat a salamander before stopping here today.

I suspect birds eat all kinds of things we never get to see. When they come around here they are either after sunflower chips and pieces of suet. So that is about all we get to see them eating.

Adrienne in Ohio said...

Hmm, I can't say that salamader looks very appetizing. Blech! But it sure looks like he was enjoying it. Great series!

Wren said...

Totally awesome, Kelly. I had no idea that they'd eat something that large, or how they would go about it.

NatureFootstep said...

what a prey this one got. Nice shots to be proud of.

Kelly said...

...thanks, everyone! It was totally cool to stand underneath the tree and watch this fellow work. I know I'll never see anything like it in Ohio. I wonder if I'll see it in Florida ever again... Such a strange sight. It was interesting how he would lodge the salamander in the bark, using it to anchor his prey so he could rip the salamander apart bit by bit. (Baby Birder...thanks for the link to the Brown Anole...you're probably right!)

Kathiesbirds said...

Kelly, how amazing that you were able to observe and photograph this!

Lana Gramlich said...

Nice capture!

Larry said...

Fantastic shots of the Red-bellied Woodpecker Kelly! How strange to see it eating a salamander. I never would have thought it.

E said...

Great photos, Kelly, thanks for sharing, hugs.

lexorjunnel said...

HHmmmmmm delicious slamander :) I like the shots... Very nice! Yummy insects...
red bellied parrot

Griffin said...

Cool find but that is not a salamander it is eating. Its almost def a lizard. I can tell by the long toes with claws showing in the second photo. If this is in Florida it could be a Brown Anole or perhaps some kind of a gecko.

I once witnessed a grackle kill and eat an Anole in Florida. Its pretty neat a lot of these perceived insect eating birds are more opportunistic than people think.

Kelly said...

...cool, thanks for the heads up Griffin!! I just found your comment, and it's Feb of 2011.