Tom's Blog

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Red-headed woodpeckers at Pleasant Valley Conservancy

Dale Bonk photo 2015
We get quite a few birders at Pleasant Valley Conservancy, and most of them comment on our red-headed woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus). This is a bird species that is in decline in much of its historic geographic range, including Wisconsin. 

Research has shown that this species benefits greatly by oak savanna restoration See: Brawn, Jeffrey D. 2006. Effects of restoring oak savannas on bird communities and populations. Conservation Biology Volume 20 (Issue 2; April), pp. 460-469. In fact, we saw our first red-heads here shortly after we had done the initial restoration on the ridge-top bur oak savannas (Units 10 and 11). 

They definitely breed here, and most years they remain here throughout the year. They almost always turn up in our Christmas bird count.

The map below shows the best area to see red-headed woodpeckers at Pleasant Valley. The two lawn chairs (labeled on the map) make a convenient viewing site.

Why are red-headed woodpeckers declining? Research by William Mueller (Master's thesis, U.W. Milwaukee, May 2002: The biogeography and recent decline of the red-headed woodpecker in Wisconsin.) has shown that the principal factor is habitat loss, including loss of nesting sites and foraging areas.

Mueller also notes that there is evidence that oak savanna restoration and prescribed burning have a beneficial effect on red-headed woodpecker populations by providing optimum nesting and foraging habitat. Preservation of snags is especially beneficial.


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