rare Species Spotlight: Red-headed woodpecker

For the amateur birdwatcher, few species are as easily identified as the Red-headed woodpecker.  With its striking red head, and distinct white sections, it is unmistakable for any other species.  Once very common, the Red-headed woodpecker is now identified as a species of special concern in Ontario, meaning they are at risk of becoming endangered due to various threats.  According to Bird Studies Canada, from 1968 to 2005, a 70% decrease occurred in Red-headed woodpecker populations, stemming from several causes.

As with most species at-risk, habitat loss is a critical threat facing the Red-headed woodpecker.  The bird’s desired habitat is open woodlands and woodland edges, but they also frequent urban areas, particularly parks, golf courses, and cemeteries.  Common to all the habitats used by the Red-headed woodpecker is one important feature, dead trees, in which they use holes and crevices to nest and perch.  In urban areas this type of habitat is often lost, because despite their ecological significance, dead trees are seen as undesirable, and are often removed by landowners.

As well as losing crucial habitat, there is also increased competition for the limited nesting sites with the non-native European starling.  The starling was introduced to North America over a century ago, and has since boomed to a population of over 200 million (National Geographic, 2006).  A favourite nesting site of the starling is a fresh woodpecker hole, which has created significant competition for dead tree habitat.  The arrival of a new, serious nest competitor, combined with habitat loss has taken a major toll on the Red-headed woodpecker, reflected in significant population declines.

The Red-headed woodpecker has been seen at rare, however no sightings have been recorded since 2014.  This stresses the importance of bird monitoring programs, as tracking the range and abundance of this at-risk species is crucial to understanding its overall health.  The public can also get involved and assist in the recovery of the Red-headed woodpecker by reporting sightings and leaving dead trees on private property as nesting habitat.

Volunteering in bird surveys, and supporting local nature reserves such as rare, are also great ways to promote the recovery of the species.  The rare Community BioBlitz on July 15th  provides an opportunity to help take an inventory of rare’s species, and further our understanding of how our habitat is being used, while learning from experts in the field.  Perhaps you could have the first Red-headed woodpecker sighting on the property in almost 3 years!

For more information about rare’s community BioBlitz, and to register, visit raresites.org

By: Owen Lucas, Ecological Monitoring Assistant

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