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Pileated Woodpecker Droppings

11-12-15 pileated droppings 015Pileated Woodpeckers usually defecate frequently during the day at their foraging sites. As they pry off long slivers of wood to expose carpenter ant galleries, the wood chips pile up on the ground. A substantial pile usually indicates that the woodpecker has been working long enough at this site for there to be some droppings in the pile.

Pileated Woodpeckers eat ants, primarily carpenter, and beetle larvae throughout the year. Fruit and nuts are eaten when available. The primary food shifts seasonally, with fruit mainly in the fall, carpenter ants in the winter, wood-boring beetle larvae in early spring, and a variety of insects in the summer.

Like humans, birds excrete metabolic waste products, mainly nitrogen, which remains after food is broken down. Humans excrete waste nitrogen as urea in urine, which is diluted with water. Birds, needing to be as light as possible for efficient flight, do not have heavy, water-filled bladders. They excrete nitrogen as a chemical called uric acid in a concentrated form with no dilution necessary. The white outer coating of bird droppings is uric acid. The insides of the droppings are the actual feces, or the indigestible parts of a bird’s diet. A Pileated Woodpecker’s droppings at this time of year consist of bits of carpenter ant exoskeletons and a surprisingly small amount of wood fiber (see insert). Birds simultaneously evacuate uric acid and feces from an opening just under the tail called the cloaca or vent.

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7 responses

  1. Cindy

    What a great old tree! And interesting how the things (seemingly) least “useful” to humans: marshes, rotting trees, mangroves, rain forests, weeds, beaver ponds, etc. are most useful to everything else. Love your blog. Thank you!

    November 13, 2015 at 7:19 am

  2. Evergreen Erb

    I just want to let you know how much I am enjoying these emails every morning. I have learned lots about things I didn’t know about at all, and lots about things I already knew stuff about. What a gift. Thank you.

    November 13, 2015 at 9:52 am

    • Thank you so much, Evergreen. I believe you know my friend Lorraine Vorse? I used to live in your neck of the woods, and hope some day our paths cross!

      November 13, 2015 at 10:06 am

  3. I love the way you explain things we seldom ever think about and when you do, I always ask myself why I hadn’t wondered about that before? 🙂

    November 13, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    • Some day we HAVE to meet!

      November 14, 2015 at 8:26 am

      • It is a possibility! I have a friend in Essex Junction that I keep meaning to visit… are you far from there?

        November 14, 2015 at 7:33 pm

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