View all of the titles in the
by Stan Tekiela
August 28, 2017
Recently I had a wonderful opportunity to study and photograph a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers nesting in an old tree and feeding their young. All of this happened because a reader of this column gave me a shout to share the exciting news of this cool woodpecker.
The Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythocephalus) was once a very common woodpecker. In the mid 1800's John James Audubon stated that the Red-headed Woodpecker was the most common woodpecker in North America. He called them semi-domesticated because they weren't afraid of people. He stated that they were camp robbers and also a pest.
According to Audubon Society, Christmas Bird Count data, between the 1950's and the year 2010 the population of Red-headed Woodpeckers dropped dramatically. Over 80 percent of the population dies out in just over 50 years. Currently we continue to lose approximately 2 percent each year. That means within a couple decades we could see this bird become extinct if the trend continues.
The reason behind this decline is not understood. Many are quick to blame loss of habitat for their decline. While it is true that we have had a decline in mature tree habitat, no conclusive study indicates this to be the cause. I would point to the fact that the similar size, shape and habitat requirement Red-bellied Woodpecker populations are exploding across the country. If it were truly a habitat issue it should affect both species equally since they both have the same habitat requirements.
Competition with European Starlings for the nest cavity has also been implicated in the decline of the Red-heads. While no doubt competition for the nest cavity with the starling will impact the Red-heads, the population of the European Staring is also dropping across the country at the same time. Also, if the starling usurps the Red-head the woodpecker can always excavate a new cavity.
It has been proposed that Red-headed Woodpeckers are habitat specialist and require a very unique habitat called the Oak Savannah. The argument goes that as oak savannah habitat is reduced so goes the woodpecker. I would maintain that the amount of oak savannah habitat was never very large and perhaps the reason why we find Red-heads in this habitat now is because it's the last hold out where the woodpeckers can still live. All you need to do is ask anyone over the age of 50 who grew up on a farm if they remember Red-headed Woodpeckers and they didn't have Oak Savannah habitat.
Over the past 30 years of studying and photographing Red-headed Woodpeckers the vast majority have not been in Oak Savannah habitat. In fact the nest I was photographing recently was in a dead birch tree in a mixed deciduous forest.
There are over 200 species of woodpecker in the world and only 4 species cache food. Caching food is a process of storing nuts such as acorns in a cavity for later consumption. This might be a clue. For example the number of nut bearing trees has declined dramatically over the past 100 years. Both the number of oak trees, hickories and beech have declined and the American Chestnut is completely gone. Whether or not this is the cause of the decline is not known.
Some interesting aspects of the Red-headed Woodpecker. In nearly all of the woodpeckers species it is easy to see the difference between the male and female. Usually the male has some kind of marking on its head. However the Red-headed Woodpecker male and female look exactly the same. Even if you have these birds in your hands and you can examine them you won't be able to tell the difference between the male and the female. This is an interesting difference between the Red-headed Woodpeckers and the rest of the woodpeckers.
Red-headed Woodpeckers are remarkable species and I always feel honored to be able to see and film this bird. If you have a nest in your yard, no matter how common the species, give me a shout. You never know, I might come visit. Until next time...
Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and photograph wildlife. He can be followed on www.facebook.com and twitter.com. He can be contacted via his web page at www.naturesmart.com.
The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.
It's funny how we hang on to traditions-- especially ancient traditions. Take Halloween for example. Started nearly 3,500 years ago by the Celtic people near Britain, it was a special day set aside to mark the end of the harvest and acknowledge the beginning of the long dark and cold...
During the lazy days of summer, nothing in nature seems to be moving or doing much of anything. However, autumn feels like everything in nature is on the move or rushing to preparing for winter. Many of our regular backyard birds have already migrated. Hummingbirds are well on their way to the...
There is nothing better than spending a late summer morning walking the woods in search of whatever interesting you can find. Lately I've been out wondering the thick cool forests looking for some mushrooms. I've been successful at find the mushrooms that I am seeking but I also find other...
Late summer and early fall is the best time for mushrooms. For the past couple of weeks I've been out and about searching high and low for all sorts of mushrooms. I find peace in the simple act of walking in the woods without a specific purpose and being happy with whatever I find.
When he's out in the field, Stan relies on his Vortex Razor binoculars and Vortex Razor spotting scope to help find the subjects for his award winning wildlife photography.
Now, contact Stan for your special code to get a 10% discount off, along with free shipping, when you purchase any of the Vortex line of binoculars or spotting scopes.
For thirty years, professional wildlife photographer Stan Tekiela has counted on Hunt’s Photo and Video to provide him with professional photography equipment.
From tripods to camera bodies and lenses, Hunt’s has been Stan’s place for everything that he needs. Personal service and prompt shipping means Stan can count on Hunt’s to support his professional wildlife photography career.
Professional Wildlife Photographer Stan Tekiela always uses Feeder Fresh in his seed feeders to help keep the feeders and food dry, clean and mold free.
He also uses Feeder Fresh Nectar Defender in all of his hummingbird feeders. It safely keeps nectar fresh longer.