Piliated Woodpecker, Habitat Specialist
By Dave Anderson
Something Wild: (Pileated Woodpeckers) Habitat Specialists vs. Generalists
Air date: August 27, 2010
From the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, I’m Dave Anderson with Something Wild…
As recently as the 1960’s it was unusual to hear that ringing woodpecker call now considered common. Pileated Woodpeckers' return was made possible by old, dying trees.
New Hampshire's forests are rebounding from two centuries of clearing for agriculture and from logging. As they recover, vigorous second and third-growth forests are beginning to attain the old large diameter trees preferred by the huge, red-crested pileated woodpecker for building cavity nests.
Over the past five decades, eastern forests have matured enough to support larger diameter dead and dying old trees colonized by carpenter ants, termites and beetles that are preferred by pileated woodpeckers which have rebounded in nearly every state!
The return of cavity-dwelling, habitat specialists like pileated woodpeckers, sawwhet owls and fishers accompanied the return of habitat only provided by a mature forest.
It’s also true that other specialized habitats on the opposite side of the continuum provide species with what they most require. Shrubby agricultural fields or former apple orchards support golden-winged warblers, woodcocks and cottontail rabbits. Regenerating thickets of hardwood saplings following clearcutting are favored by chestnut-sided warblers, snowshoe hare, lynx and moose.
The problem with citing a suite of wildlife as “poster children” to support creating creating specific habitats is that an equal and opposite suite of habitat specialist species could provide the opposing rationale!
While piliated woodpeckers are now common in the forest, it's unlikely that any habitat specialists will eclipse the sheer numbers of habitat generalists like robins, gray squirrels or white-tailed deer!