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10 Fascinating Behaviors of the Ashy Woodpecker in Southeast Asia

The ashy woodpecker, also known as Mulleripicus fulvus, is an exciting bird species to observe. It is generally found in the forested areas of Southeast Asia, specifically in the countries of Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Indonesia.

In this article, we will discuss the physical characteristics and behavioral traits of the ashy woodpecker.


The ashy woodpecker has a length of about 30 to 33 cm and a weight of approximately 140 to 200g. The plumage of this species is mostly ashy gray, with white-to-yellow streaks on its underparts.

Its head is adorned with a distinctive red crest while its long bill is black. The legs and feet of the ashy woodpecker are grayish-black, and it has a distinct whitish patch on its primary feathers.



The ashy woodpecker can easily be identified in the field by its distinctive physical characteristics. These include its size, coloration, and the red crest on its head.

Additionally, if you observe it closely, you can notice that it has a unique way of flying and feeding.

Similar Species

The ashy woodpecker is commonly mistaken for other woodpecker species due to similar physical characteristics. For example, the gray-headed woodpecker and the maroon woodpecker have comparable plumages.

However, the ashy woodpecker can be differentiated from these species due to its smaller size and the presence of a black bill.


The ashy woodpecker has two plumages: the juvenile and adult. The juvenile ashy woodpecker looks like the adult but has reduced streaking on the belly, and its red crest may not be as developed.


The ashy woodpecker undergoes a pre-basic molt once a year. During this molting period, the bird replaces all of its feathers.

The pre-basic molt takes place after the breeding season, usually in August or September, and is finished before winter.


The ashy woodpecker is diurnal, and its activity period varies depending on the season. During breeding season, this bird can be observed foraging for insects in the morning and afternoon.

However, during non-breeding season, it forages throughout the day.


The ashy woodpecker is known for its unique feeding behavior. It is adapted to feeding on ants and termites, using its long bill to reach into the nest to extract the insects.

While the bird feeds, it takes on a distinctive position, with its body nearly vertical, tail pointing downwards, and legs clinging tightly to the tree trunk. This unique feeding position helps the ashy woodpecker attain better access to ants and termites.


The ashy woodpecker is an exciting bird species that can be found in Southeast Asia. It has distinctive physical characteristics and an interesting feeding behavior.

Its unique adaptation to feeding on ants and termites makes it a crucial contributor to the ecological balance of the region’s forested areas. Observing and studying this bird species is essential for gaining a better understanding of the animals and ecosystems of Southeast Asia.

The ashy woodpecker, Mulleripicus fulvus, belongs to the family Picidae, which comprises over 200 species of birds globally. The ashy woodpecker can be found in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar.

This article will explore the systematics history of the ashy woodpecker, including geographic variation, subspecies, related species, and historical changes to distribution.

Systematics History

The systematics of the ashy woodpecker have been subject to many changes throughout history. Initially, the species belonged to the genus Dendrocopos before being moved to Mulleripicus.

The move was based on physical characteristics and DNA studies, which indicated that the ashy woodpecker was different from other species in the Dendrocopos genus.

Geographic Variation

Despite the ashy woodpecker’s wide distribution, there are no significant geographic variations in the species’ plumage or physical characteristics. However, the particular traits of individuals may differ slightly depending on location.

For instance, the ashy woodpecker in northern Myanmar may have a more extensive black forehead than those found in Malaysia.


Several subspecies of the ashy woodpecker have been described based on differences in physical features or distribution. These subspecies include:


Mulleripicus fulvus kangeanensis: This subspecies is found in the Kangean Islands of Indonesia, where it has a distinctive large white wing patch. 2.

Mulleripicus fulvus woodi: This subspecies is found on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, where it has unique plumage characteristics, such as streaking on the chest, a darker shade of gray overall, and a smaller white wing patch. 3.

Mulleripicus fulvus praecognitus: This subspecies is found in hill forests on the Malay Peninsula, where it has a smaller white wing patch than other subspecies.

Related Species

The ashy woodpecker is closely related to other species in the family Picidae. Genetic analysis has shown that it is specifically related to other woodpecker species found in Southeast Asia, including the Himalayan woodpecker (Dendrocopos himalayensis), the pale-headed woodpecker (Gecinulus grantia), and the red-collared woodpecker (Picus rabieri).

Historical Changes to Distribution

Although the ashy woodpecker is still present across Southeast Asia, its distribution has undoubtedly changed over time.

Habitat loss and fragmentation are the primary factors that have led to a decline in the species’ numbers and distribution range over the years.

Additionally, climate change could be having significant effects on the ashy woodpecker’s distribution. Historical records show that the ashy woodpecker once occupied a vast area beyond its current range, including southern China and northeastern India.

In recent years, however, the species has become less common in Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand and Malaysia. The bird’s availability in Indonesia depends on its location, as there are islands where the species is abundant and others where it is vulnerable.

The fragmentation of the ashy woodpecker’s habitat has played a role in its current distribution. Forest clearances for agriculture, logging, mining, and other human activities have significantly reduced the bird’s habitat and foraging sites.

As a result, the population size and distribution of the species have declined substantially in many areas where it was once common. Climate change factors such as sea level rise and extreme weather conditions are also having a considerable impact on the ashy woodpecker’s distribution.

The bird’s distribution could be affected by changing temperatures, precipitation, and humidity patterns, which could affect the distribution of the insects that the bird feeds on.


The systematics history of the ashy woodpecker has undergone several changes over time. The species is found in Southeast Asia, with no significant geographic variations in its physical characteristics.

While several subspecies have been described, habitat loss and fragmentation, in addition to other natural environment factors, are contributing factors to changes in its distribution. The scientific community must address the challenges of the ashy woodpecker’s declining distribution range to ensure it remains a vital part of the ecosystem.

The ashy woodpecker, or Mulleripicus fulvus, primarily inhabits primary broadleaf and evergreen forests in Southeast Asia. These forests’ unique characteristics allow the bird to thrive and maintain its role as an ecological contributor to the region.

This article will explore the ashy woodpecker’s habitat and movements, including migration, and the factors that influence them.


The ashy woodpecker is known to inhabit primary broadleaf and evergreen forests in Southeast Asia. These forests typically have dense undergrowth and trees with thicker and larger trunks that can accommodate the bird’s foraging behavior, which involves drilling into the wood.

The ashy woodpecker’s natural habitat consists of moist, lowland or lower montane forests, up to elevations of around 1600 meters above sea level. The bird’s distribution also depends on vertical zonation within the forest.

For instance, the ashy woodpecker is more abundant in lowland forests compared to the upland forests, where other bird species, such as the pale-headed woodpecker, are more prevalent.

Movements and Migration

The ashy woodpecker is a non-migratory bird that typically does not engage in seasonal migrations. However, it may exhibit minor altitude migration, particularly in Taiwan.

These birds have been observed moving down to lower elevations in winter seasons and returning to higher elevations to breed in spring. Rather than migrating, the ashy woodpecker appears to make localized movements depending on the availability of food resources and breeding conditions.

Typically, these movements are mainly vertical, from higher to lower elevations in the forest, or horizontal, moving between patches of forest habitats. These movements are mostly driven by the bird’s reliance on food sources that are seasonally or spatially variable.

Factors Influencing


Habitat fragmentation and loss remain one of the primary factors that can influence the ashy woodpecker’s movements and presence within certain habitats. Deforestation and land-use changes continue to take a toll on the species, reducing its range and minimizing the bird’s survival prospects.

Forest degradation, fragmentation, and loss of habitat pose a more significant risk of extinction for the species in mainland Southeast Asia compared to the islands. Climate change is another significant environmental factor that can negatively impact the ashy woodpecker’s habitat.

Global warming has altered the distribution of rainfall patterns, temperature, and humidity, which can affect the bird’s food sources, nesting, and breeding success. Changes in climate can affect how insects interact with the trees and their distributions and ecological roles across their range.

Natural disasters such as hurricanes, storms, and typhoons also pose a threat to the ashy woodpecker’s habitat. These disasters can occur unpredictably and result in significant habitat destruction, which affects the bird’s local movements and population dynamics within habitat patches.


Habitat and movements determine the ashy woodpecker’s survival and population dynamics. The bird primarily inhabits primary broadleaf and evergreen forests in Southeast Asia, where it drills into tree trunks to feed on insects.

These forests’ unique characteristics allow the species to thrive and maintain its ecological role in the region. Although it is non-migratory, the bird makes local movements depending on food resource availability and breeding conditions.

Factors such as habitat fragmentation and loss, climate change, and natural disasters can significantly influence ashy woodpecker movements and habitat suitability, thus affecting its survival and population dynamics. The ashy woodpecker, Mulleripicus fulvus, is a unique bird species that primarily feeds on insects and is adept at finding and obtaining them from the trees of Southeast Asian forests.

In this article, we will explore the ashy woodpecker’s foraging and vocalization behavior, including diet, feeding, metabolism, and temperature regulation.

Diet and Foraging


The ashy woodpecker is adapted to feed on insects, primarily ants and termites. The bird obtains its prey by drilling into the tree trunks and using its long bill to extract ants and termites from their nests.

It does this by stiffening its tail feathers, bracing itself with its feet, and hoisting its body in an upright position while pecking at the tree bark. The ashy woodpecker’s feeding behavior influences its ecology, as the bird can aid in controlling pest populations, such as ants and termites.

The bird’s uncanny ability to extract its prey from nests in trees also impacts the structural integrity of the trees; as the birds create holes in the trunk, they contribute to the creation of habitat for other animals.


The ashy woodpecker’s primary diet consists of ants and termites. The species has been observed feeding on different ant species, including weaver ants and army ants.

Termites, particularly their winged reproductive forms (alates), make up a significant proportion of the bird’s diet. Researchers also found that the amounts of ants, termites, and their relative proportions in the bird’s diet may vary seasonally, following the insects availability.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The ashy woodpecker has a high metabolic rate, which arises from its feeding on insects. An insect-based diet is energy-intensive since the bird has to hunt and obtain many prey items daily to meet its energetic needs.

The bird’s energy expenditure is also influenced by temperature, as its metabolism requires a certain temperature range for optimal functioning. The ashy woodpecker has mechanisms in place to regulate its body temperature during foraging, including thermoregulation during hot weather.

One of these mechanisms includes standing in the shade of the tree trunk as it feeds, which helps to minimize the bird’s exposure to the sun’s heat. By standing on the shaded side of the tree, the bird can engage in its foraging behavior while staying in a cooler microenvironment.

Sounds and Vocal



The ashy woodpecker’s vocalization behavior is relatively understudied compared to other aspects of the species. However, the bird is known to make several distinctive sounds, including territorial calls and mating calls.

The ashy woodpecker’s territorial call is a series of single-note “keek” sounds that it uses to establish and defend its territory from other bird species. During the breeding season, the male ashy woodpecker also makes a series of vocalizations that it uses to attract and court female birds.

These calls are usually longer than the territorial call, and they sound more musical than harsh, as in the case of the territorial call. The mating call of the ashy woodpecker usually consists of a series of short, simple notes, repeated several times to create a distinctive pattern that can attract a mate.


The ashy woodpecker’s diet and foraging behavior have evolved to be energy-intensive, helping the bird to meet its daily energy needs while obtaining insects from the trees of Southeast Asia. Its unique feeding behavior and diet also have significant ecological implications, as the bird can help control pest populations and contribute to the creation of habitat structures in trees.

The bird’s vocal behavior is relatively understudied, but the ashy woodpecker is known to make territorial calls and mating calls during the breeding season. Overall, the ashy woodpecker is a unique and fascinating bird species that play an essential role in the Southeast Asian ecosystem.

The ashy woodpecker, Mulleripicus fulvus, is a unique and fascinating bird species found in Southeast Asia. The bird’s behavior is diverse, covering aspects such as locomotion, self-maintenance, agonist behavior, sexual behavior, breeding behavior, and demography.

This article will explore these topics in detail, focusing on the species’ unique characteristics, ecological roles and, and conservation implications.



The ashy woodpecker is adapted to moving vertically in trees, where it obtains its food and protects its territory. The bird uses its claws and tail feathers to cling onto the tree trunk and lower its body to peck into the wood.

The woodpecker moves its body in a back and forth motion while pecking at the wood, creating a cavity to expose insects, such as ants and termites.

Self Maintenance

The ashy woodpecker is highly conscious of its personal hygiene, and it spends many hours each day preening and cleaning its feathers. This behavior is vital for the bird’s survival, as it helps to maintain insulation, prevent feather wear and tear, and remove parasites.



The ashy woodpecker uses agonistic behavior to defend its territory, reduce resource competition, and establish dominance. The territorial call the bird uses to defend its territory is a series of “keek” sounds that intensifies when danger is perceived.

The ashy woodpecker engages in several agonistic display patterns. These include wing flaps, chasing, perch displacements, head turns, and tail-spreading, which they use to communicate their territorial intentions.



During the breeding season, the male ashy woodpecker uses various behaviors to attract and court a mate. These behaviors include visual displays, vocalizations, and physical displays, such as flying with extended wings and lowering its head before courting the female bird.

The male bird may also bring food to the female bird as a sign of his guard.


Breeding in ashy woodpeckers usually takes place between March and July, but the exact timing can vary depending on environmental factors such as temperature and the availability of food. During the breeding season, the male ashy woodpecker constructs a nest cavity in a tree trunk or branch, and the female bird lays eggs in it.

The female ashy woodpecker usually lays two to three eggs per clutch, and both parents take turns incubating them.

Demography and Populations

The ashy woodpecker has lost significant habitat and is declining in the numbers and distribution range. Although the bird is still widespread throughout Southeast Asia, its population size and range appear to have decreased over the years due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Forest clearances for agriculture, logging, mining, and other related human activities are significant contributors to habitat loss and fragmentation. The ashy woodpecker is considered a species of concern, warranting conservation action to avoid further declines in its population.


The ashy woodpecker’s behavior is varied and fascinating, covering aspects such as locomotion, self-maintenance

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