Peru is a bird watcher’s heaven, a country where more than 1800 bird species can be found (more than the total number in North America and Europe combined), 85% of which are resident (non-migratory), and 117 of which are found no where but Peru (endemic). This means you might see a great diversity of just one type of bird, for example, woodpeckers, and in fact, there are 39 different species of Peruvian woodpeckers (compared to just 7 species in Minnesota).
Is the incredible woodpecker diversity due to the number and density of trees with accompanying grubs in the Amazon rainforest? Perhaps, only indirectly, because 30-50% of Peruvian woodpeckers surveyed eat primarily ants — ground and tree nesting varieties, supplemented with other insects, fruits, and seeds. It may be the ant diversity and abundance that is partly responsible for woodpecker diversity in the rainforest.
In North America it is the flickers that are the ant specialists. Northern Flickers, for example (Colaptes auratus), are often found in grassy areas or open areas in forests, probing the ground for ants. Colaptes flicker species are divided into two groups — the more terrestrial foragers, like our Northern Flicker, and arboreal foraging specialists in the rainforest. Both groups love to dine on ants, but find them in different places.
The more arboreal members of the Colaptes genus (4 species in Peru) have solid green-brown backs, spots or scales on their breast, and bright red napes. They are so similar, they are difficult to tell apart without a really good look (e.g., birds in the lower part of the central panel of the first image).
Another major consumer group of ants and termites in the Peruvian rainforest are the five species in the genus Celeus. These are medium-sized birds whose color is more homogeneous (all brown, all yellow, etc.) but usually have a distinctive red mustache or crest (see top row of left and center panels in the first image).
These are just a few of the colorful woodpeckers we were fortunate to see in Peru, and of course, makes me want to go back for another visit to “woodpecker heaven”.