Woodpeckers Need Our Help!

Red-headed woodpeckers used to be just about everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains. But these days the number of red-headed woodpeckers is about half of what it was fifty years ago. Volunteers are working on a new project to get people to help red-headed woodpeckers. They’re encouraging landowners to let dead or dying trees stand rather than cut them down:

You can’t miss Red-headed Woodpeckers. They have long beaks, bright red heads and snowy white breasts. And if you go to the right place, you can find a lot of them.

Photo by Scott Franke

Today they’re not hammering on trees – the sound most of us associate with woodpeckers – but they’re doing plenty of chattering.

This reserve in southern Minnesota looks a lot like how much of the Midwest used to look.

There are clumps of big oak trees here, separated by open areas of native grasses, shrubs and wildflowers. The biologists call it an oak Savannah.

And there are Red-headed Woodpeckers everywhere – about fifty of them on this 500-acre patch of ground.

“There’s a red-headed, and he’s got a baby with him. God, they’re beautiful. They are so beautiful.”

That’s Chet Meyers. After a career as a college professor, he’s now in charge of an effort to make more places where Red-headed Woodpeckers can build their nests and raise their young.

If they can figure out exactly what the woodpeckers like so much about this place, maybe they can come close to reproducing the same conditions other places.

Chet Meyers is marking every tree where the woodpeckers have nested.

Once the trees are marked, the group will catalog exact descriptions of each tree. They’re hoping to come up with a profile of the perfect home for Red-headed Woodpeckers.

Photo by Wayne Nicholas

“And we’re going to measure the diameter of the tree, how high the nest cavity is, the species of the tree, is it alive or is it dead, so we can get some data on what seems to be the preferred habitat.”

Once they’re pretty sure they know what the woodpeckers like, they’ll reach out to land owners. They’ll to try to get them to leave dead and dying trees standing.

That could work on old abandoned farms, where there are trees and open spaces. Or in cemeteries. Or around golf courses.

And Meyers says helping woodpeckers means helping other wildlife too.

“The woodpecker is called a primary nester, it digs the cavity. But flying squirrels, mice, snakes, bluebirds, tree swallows – there are lots of other animals that are secondary nesters. They can’t drill the hole. But they live there. So what we’re trying to do is preserve the habitat so the woodpeckers drill the hole and when they leave, something else will come in and live in it.”

The researchers think if you have dead or dying tree, that could be a home for a Red-headed Woodpecker. But usually homeowners are worried the tree could fall and damage something, Meyers says you can cut off the top and some of the bigger branches and leave the rest of the tree standing. They think the red-headed woodpecker will be just as happy.

Story Courtesey of the Environment Report

from the University of Michigan and Michigan Radio

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About Michigan Nature Association

The Michigan Nature Association is a non-profit organization that has been dedicated to preserving Michigan’s natural heritage since 1952. MNA protects more than 10,000 acres of land in over 170 nature sanctuaries throughout the state of Michigan, from the tip of Keweenaw in the Upper Peninsula to the Indiana/Ohio border.