Geocolaptes olivaceus (Ground woodpecker) 

Grondspeg [Afrikaans]; Ungximde [Xhosa]; umNqangqandolo [Zulu]; Khatajoe, Mohetle [South Sotho]; Xidzingirhi (also used as generic term for firefinches and waxbills) [Tsonga]; Kaapse grondspecht [Dutch]; Pic laboureur [French]; Erdspecht [German]; Pica-pau-das-rochas [Portuguese]

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Geocolaptes olivaceus (Ground woodpecker)  Geocolaptes olivaceus (Ground woodpecker) 
Ground woodpecker. [photo Peter Steyn ] Ground woodpecker on termite mound, Boland trail, Western Cape, South Africa.  [photo H. Robertson, Iziko ]

The Ground woodpecker is endemic to South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho, being found in hilly, mountainous areas. It has a highly specialized diet, with about 99.8% of its diet ants, digging up subsurface ant nests, licking them up with its sticky tongue. Its nest is excavated by both sexes, and consists of a tunnel and egg chamber, normally dug into earthen banks. It lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes. The chicks are cared for by both parents, begging loudly for them to regurgitate food (see image). The fledglings stay dependent on their parents until the onset of the next breeding season.

Distribution and habitat

Endemic to South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho, occurring in hilly, mountainous areas of the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape, Lesotho and the Free State Province. It occurs in rock and boulder strewn slopes of mountains, usually in treeless grasslands and shrublands.

Distribution of Ground woodpecker in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project ( Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Food 

It is highly specialized, as ants form approximately 99% of its diet, digging up subsurface ant nests and licking them up with its sticky tongue. It eats so many ants that it can decrease the ant population in its area by as much as 25-50%! The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Insects
    • Formicidae (ants), as well as their eggs, larvae and pupae:
      • Camponotus
      • Anoplolepis
      • Acantholepis
      • Crematogaster
      • Tetramorium
      • Pheidole
      • Meranoplus
      • Solenopsis
    • Coleoptera (beetles)
    • termites

Breeding

  • Both sexes excavate the nest, which consists of a 0.5-1.0m long tunnel ending in a circa 15 cm wide egg chamber. It is usually dug into earthen banks, such as riverbanks and gullies, or in crumbling walls of abandoned buildings or termite mounds.
  • Egg-laying season is from July-December, peaking from August-September.
  • It lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes.
  • The chicks are cared for by both parents, begging loudly for the parents to regurgitate food (see image below). The fledglings remain dependent on their parents until the onset of the next breeding season.
Geocolaptes olivaceus (Ground woodpecker)  Geocolaptes olivaceus (Ground woodpecker)

Ground woodpecker regurgitating food to juvenile, Boland trail, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo H. Robertson, Iziko ]

Ground woodpecker at its nest, Wakkerstroom, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ]

Threats

Not threatened, in fact widespread and common in protected areas.

References

  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 

 

 

 

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