U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Physiology & Behavior 174 (2017) 144–154


U.S. Government Work


Most diurnal birds are presumed visually sensitive to near ultraviolet (UV)wavelengths, however, controlled behavioral studies investigating UV sensitivity remain few. Although woodpeckers are important as primary cavity excavators and nuisance animals, published work on their visual systems is limited. We developed a novel foraging-based behavioral assay designed to test UV sensitivity in the Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). We acclimated 21 wild-caught woodpeckers to foraging for frozen mealworms within 1.2 m sections of peeled cedar (Thuja spp.) poles.We then tested the functional significance of UV cues by placing frozen mealworms behind UV-reflective covers, UV-absorptive covers, or decayed red pine substrates within the same 1.2 m poles in independent experiments. Behavioral responses were greater toward both UV-reflective and UV-absorptive substrates in three experiments. Study subjects therefore reliably differentiated and attended to two distinct UV conditions of a foraging substrate. Cue-naïve subjects showed a preference for UV-absorptive substrates, suggesting that woodpeckers may be pre-disposed to foraging from such substrates. Behavioral responses were greater toward decayed pine substrates (UV-reflective) than sound pine substrates suggesting that decayed pine can be a useful foraging cue. The finding that cue-naïve subjects selected UV-absorbing foraging substrates has implications for ecological interactions of woodpeckers with fungi.Woodpeckers transport fungal spores, and communication methods analogous to those of plant-pollinator mutualisms (i.e. UV-absorbing patterns) may have evolved to support woodpecker-fungus mutualisms.

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