West Indian Woodpecker Melanerpes superciliaris

Robert A. Askins, Michael E. Akresh, and William K. Hayes
Version: 2.0 — Published October 29, 2020

Diet and Foraging

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Main Foods Taken

Varied diet, including insects, vertebrates, seeds, and fruit.

Microhabitat for Foraging

Forages at all levels of the woodland, and also descends to the ground (4).

Food Capture and Consumption

West Indian Woodpecker forages singly or in pairs. Like other Melanerpes woodpecker species, it uses a diverse array of foraging methods. On Grand Cayman, the main foraging methods are fruit-eating (38%), arboreal gleaning (24%), probing bark (21%), pecking (13%), and probing into epiphytes (4%) (4). Bark probing is directed at "fissures and cracks in the bark, knot holes, weathered holes previously excavated by woodpeckers, holes in ends of rotten or dying branches, and stumps"” as well as accumulated plant debris between trunks and lateral branches (4). On Abaco, West Indian Woodpeckers primarily probes and pecks while foraging, with fruit-eating and gleaning constituting only 17% and 7% of the observations, respectively (n = 352 observations, L. W. Duncan unpublished data). Observations of a foraging bird were made at one-minute intervals, and included multiple non-independent observations from single foraging bouts by an unknown number of birds. The observations came from seven different study sites, however. The relatively low frequency of fruit-eating on Abaco could be the result of fruit availability, which varies among habitats, islands, and seasons. Males on Abaco use pecking methods (excavating, percussive tapping and scaling) more frequently than females did, while females use probing methods more frequently than males.

On Grand Cayman, males forage on higher branches and use pecking actions, while females more often hunt lower down on trunks and on lower branches by gleaning. Large items are broken on a hard surface (an "anvil") before being swallowed or fed to chicks. West Indian Woodpecker uses the bill and tongue to feed on fruit pulp, so it can eat large fruit as well as small fruit (4). It also shows great skill and agility in plucking fruit on small, outer branches.


Major Food Items

Stomach contents of West Indian Woodpeckers from Grand Cayman reveal a diverse diet, with 56% of the volume derived from animals and 44% from plants (n = 14) (4). Most individuals had eaten both animal matter (64% of individuals) and plant matter (79%). The animal matter consisted of a wide diversity of spiders, insects (six families), frogs (Hylidae), and reptiles. Orthoptera was the most important insect group in the diet (31.5% of the total volume), and geckos (Gekkonidae) comprised 4% of the total volume. Powell and Henderson (45) list the gecko Sphaerodactylus argivus as prey for West Indian Woodpecker on Grand Cayman. Plant matter consisted of fruits and seeds of five different plant families (4). The fruits and seeds of Caricaceae were a particularly important component of the diet (29% of the total volume), and the fruits and seeds of Moraceae (7%) and Burseraceae (4%) were also frequent. A study of fruit dispersal of early successional plant species by birds and mammals in Cuba showed that West Indian Woodpecker forages on the fruit of six of the seven focal plant species (Muntingia calabura, Cecropia schreberiana, Trema micrantha, Trichospermun mexicanum, Guazuma ulmifolia, and Talipariti elatum) (46). It also sometimes feeds on cultivated oranges (Citrus x sinensis, 47). In addition, it was recorded feeding on the nectar of blossoms of Tabebuia heterophylla (Bignoniaceae) and Selenicereus grandiflorus (Cactaceae) in Cuba (48). Kirkconnell (40) observed that 50-60% of food articles brought to the nestlings were fruits and 40-50% were of animal origin.

Drinking, Pellet-Casting, and Defecation


Likely opportunistic. Has been documented drinking from leaf axils of arboreal bromeliads .


Pellet-casting has been documented, although no published information exists.

Recommended Citation

Askins, R. A., M. E. Akresh, and W. K. Hayes (2020). West Indian Woodpecker (Melanerpes superciliaris), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (T. S. Schulenberg and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.weiwoo1.02