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Woodpeckers Focus on Ultra-Violet Cues

Woodpeckers damage telephone poles and other structures when excavating cavities for nest sites or foraging. Most birds are sensitive to near ultra-violet (UV) wavelengths (300-400 nm) and the level of UV reflectance (the amount of light reflected by substrates) has been shown to influence mate selection and foraging preferences in birds.

 To determine whether woodpeckers are sensitive to UV cues when selecting excavation or foraging surfaces, NWRC and University of Missouri researchers compared the foraging behavior of 21 wild-caught pileated woodpeckers to food hidden under UV-reflective and UV-absorptive surfaces.

 Researchers determined that pileated woodpeckers are visually sensitive to UV wavelengths with UV-absorptive substrates serving as useful foraging cues for the birds.

 “This is the first time UV sensitivity has been documented in the Order Piciformes which includes woodpeckers, barbets and toucans,” states University of Missouri

graduate student Sean O’Daniels. “The information will help us and our collaborators take advantage of UV cues in the development and design of repellents to prevent woodpecker damage.”

 For more information, please email nwrc@aphis.usda.gov.

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