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A land manager's guide to conserving habitat for forest birds in ...

A land manager's guide to conserving habitat for forest birds in ...

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus present. Red-bellied Woodpeckers typically excavate a new nest cavity each year, usually high in the canopy, in dead or declining large-diameter trees. They often return to the same tree stub or limb to nest in successive years, beginning their new nest below the previous year’s nest. In Ontario, they breed from May to July, laying clutches of four white eggs, and raising a single-brood. Diet Unlike most woodpeckers, the Red-bellied seldom excavates wood for insects. Instead, it is a generalist, consuming fruit, mast and seeds in quantity, along with bark and leaf insects. It opportunistically feeds on Yellow-bellied Sapsucker “sap wells,” nectar, bird eggs and nestlings, and small vertebrates. They store nuts, corn, seeds, berries and insects for the winter. Management Guidelines Their generalist nature and tolerance of humans suggests that management for this species is not a concern. Yet, their reliance on large declining and dead trees for nesting and roosting means that forest management programs targeting the removal of these suitable-sized trees limit this species. In fact, in the Carolinian region, declines in density have occurred in response to recent silviculture practices. Provision of mast producing trees by forest managers could benefit this woodpecker. Male Red-bellied Woodpecker — Photo: Greg Lavaty Identification (23–26 centimetres) Despite the reddish-pink wash on its belly, the Red-bellied Woodpecker is best known for its red hood and zebra patterned back. The red extends all the way to the forehead in the males, but is restricted to the nape in the females. This medium-sized woodpecker frequents bird feeders during the winter. Conservation Status The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a permanent resident across its range. It is widely distributed across the eastern U.S, but restricted in Ontario to the Carolinian region. Its range has expanded dramatically north and west in recent decades due to forest maturation and the increased availability of backyard feeders. This woodpecker directly competes with European Starlings for nest cavities, and is often evicted by starlings. Breeding Biology This highly vocal species breeds within relatively mature hardwoods and mixed woods where large-diameter trees are How to find If you live close to a deciduous forest in southern Ontario, you may well see this bird during the winter at your bird feeder. Otherwise, the best time to spot a Red-bellied Woodpecker is in late April when birds are engaged in pair formation and cavity excavation. At this time, birds are highly vocal and will call almost constantly. Look for males calling, while peeking out of their cavity. Did you know? • The Red-bellied Woodpecker is poorly named, as the “red belly” is limited to a small section of its underbelly that is difficult to see in the field. • Simultaneous nesting in the same tree has been recorded with the European Starling, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Redheaded and Hairy Woodpecker. • The male has a longer bill and a longer, wider tongue allowing him to reach into furrows to extract prey that is not accessible to females. This may permit the sexes to divide up the resources in one area. • A group of woodpeckers can be called a “descent,” “drumming,” or “gatling.” 104 Bird Species Accounts

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius Breeding Biology The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker breeds in a wide variety of deciduous, and to a lesser extent mixed-deciduous forests, including both young and old forests dominated by early successional or climax tree species. Breeding ranges from central Alaska east to Newfoundland, south to the northeastern United States. They typically return to the same area to breed, often to the same tree, and occasionally the same cavity. Nests are located at mid canopy, in dead or declining, large diameter deciduous trees in tolerant forests, or in live trees with heartrot in intolerant stands. In Ontario, birds breed from late April through June, lay four white eggs, and raise a single brood. Diet Sapsuckers are unique foragers, drilling a series of shallow holes in the bark of trees, then licking up the sap and the insects that it attracts. Half of their diet consists of arthropods, mainly ants, while the remainder consists of sap and fruit. Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker — Photo: Garth McElroy Identification (20–23 centimetres) Though not well known to many people, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a widespread and common woodpecker that plays a vital ecological role in the forest communities it inhabits. It creates rows of shallow holes (sap wells) in the bark of trees that supply a sweet liquid meal for sapsuckers and some other species like hummingbirds. It also excavates tree cavities that are exploited by numerous other bird and wildlife species. The sapsucker has a red forehead, two white head stripes, a long white wing stripe, black and white barring on the back, a black bib, and a faint yellowish wash on the belly. Males have a red throat that is white in females. Conservation Status The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a common and widespread shortdistance migrant, with overall stable populations. Populations in the Carolinian region of Ontario have increased due to the conversion of agriculture to young forests. Although it is believed to prefer young forests, its occurrence in southern Ontario tends to be mostly in areas of older forest. Habitat quality appears to be driven by their need for large declining trees with heart rot or large snags for nesting, and the construction of sap wells. Management Guidelines Despite the common belief that sapsuckers are associated with young forests and edges, they exhibit sensitivity to logging. Birds tend to be absent from woodlots subject to heavy partial-harvesting (such as diameter-limit cuts) and in southern Ontario, densities are highest in mature stands. Like other cavity nesters, this species is dependent on mature, dead and declining trees and snags for nesting and construction of sap wells. How to find? The species is most easily detected by its distinctive vocalizations and drumming. Listen for their unique, slow irregular tapping (easily imitated by tapping on a tree with a stick), and their nasal “mew” calls. Look for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers drilling and maintaining sap wells at mid-canopy levels. Did you know? • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds appear to be closely associated with sapsuckers. They will place nests near sap wells, follow sapsuckers in their daily movements, and may even time their migration to coincide with that of sapsuckers. They are one of a suite of species that feed at sap wells. • The red cap on some females may be diminished or completely absent, making them look somewhat like a female Hairy Woodpecker. • This is the only woodpecker in eastern North America that is completely migratory. Bird Species Accounts 105

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