Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ant Mound Flicker Droppings

January 31 high temperatures made it into the mid 60’s, so I decided to check out some ant mounds to see if there were any ants moving about.  There was no ant activity, but I did notice several holes left by a foraging Flicker.  Flickers on the ant mounds are a regular occurrence.

Flicker holes are usually narrow and deep.  I imagine they get their bill down the hole and then fish for ants with their tongue.  I remembered the comment made last week by James Trager about Flickers leaving droppings full of ant exoskeletons on the mound and began to search for similar droppings here.

No ants in this rather loose dropping.  I was wondering if the snail shell was already in place before arrival of the dropping or if it actually went through the bird.

This is what I was looking for.  There’s a lot of material packed into this little nugget.

Here’s a neat ant exoskeleton looking like it just took a trip through a trash compactor.  That’s pretty good evidence that the birds are actually feeding on ants.

Crumbling the dropping reveals a great assortment of ant parts.

Mixed in with the ants were many Eastern Red Cedar seeds.  Apparently the Flickers have also been feeding on the cedar fruits.  Thanks for the tip James.  It made for an interesting investigation.


  1. HI Steve...I just did a post yesterday on the Northern Yellow Shafted Flicker how funny is that...great minds...although my mind was not on there droppings...hahaha!
    I can't believe your actual found this left of the ant ..what do they get to eat out of them looks almost whole ???
    If it eat the snail I'm sure it was very painful passing that... poor thing!!
    Well this was another interesting post even if it was a little crappy ; }
    Nice photos : }}}}}

  2. Nice!
    Grammie G. - It would be interesting to cut open some of these ant carcasses to see what's left inside of them. I suspect it would be little that's digestible.
    We're making more investigative work for Steve with this discussion.

  3. James ...Steve will be up for the challenge...I bet he will consult with you though!!...

  4. Hi Grace. Sorry about the crappy post. I've always got time to stop and look at stuff that's made the journey through an animal.
    The Flicker's digestive juices dissolve the soft inner parts of the ant. When the outer husk comes out, it looks whole, but it's just an empty shell.

    Hi James. I'm afraid that I don't have the necessary equipment to successfully perform ant autopsies. My budget manager, AKA Wife, doesn't think I need a lot of expensive lab equipment in order to explore the back yard. I agree, but I can sure think of a lot of neat toys I would like to have.

  5. In this case, small, moderately sharp scissors and a jewelwer's loupe would suffice. But I think you're right that they're doing a fair job of extracting the bits that are soluble in their digestive juices.