Researcher uses eBird data to discover the best habitat for the Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Researchers are deploying the latest mapping techniques to identify the most important suburban habitat for a Pileated Woodpecker species.

Ruijia Hu, a doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati, said wildlife habitat in congested places like southwestern Ohio is becoming more fragmented as forests give way to new constructions. Eventually, this could cause problems for an animal with specific habitat needs, such as the Pileated Woodpecker.

Pileated woodpeckers are crow-sized birds with colorful red crests and striking white facial stripes. They are found in forests from British Columbia to Florida. They are nicknamed “the carpenter birds” for their incessant natural woodworking.

“I think they are beautiful birds. They served as a model for the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker,” Hu said.

They prefer mature forests with dead wood that hides grubs and other favorite foods. Although they are considered a species of least conservation concern, their special habitat requirements make them potentially vulnerable to human development, Hu said.

Young Pileated Woodpeckers in a nest in Florida. Photo by Harry Collins Photography/Shutterstock

Pileated woodpeckers dig cavities in trees for their nests every year, creating lots of valuable real estate for animals like fox squirrels and owls.

“They make new nests every year. They won’t reuse the old ones,” Hu said. “Other animals depend on them.”

Pilates are reclusive birds that are more often heard than seen. They emit a loud, repetitive call that echoes through the forest canopy. Their study can be particularly delicate. So Hu turned to community science for help.

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Where lives the Pileated Woodpecker

To identify where pileated woodpeckers have been seen in Hamilton County, Ohio, home to Cincinnati and its eponymous university, she used eight years of sightings collected by birders and connected to the eBird website, an online tool and app. free online that anyone can use to record their sightings and locations.

View eBird’s Pileated Woodpecker page

She overlaid these observations with remote sensing data and found that corridors along rivers and streams with an abundance of mature trees and dead wood helped birds adapt to their increasingly fragmented urban landscape. . One of the best spots for tall woodpeckers in Hamilton County is along the Little Miami River.

She then created a model to identify the most critical habitat corridors, which could help park managers and government planners make better decisions about preserving or restoring the most valuable contiguous forest patches.

Hu presented his findings at the American Association of Geographers conference in Denver, held March 23-27.

UC PhD student Ruijia Hu and Professor Susanna Tong examine telltale evidence of woodpecker activity in tree trunks at Burnet Woods. Photo by Andrew Higley/University of Cincinnati

Study co-author and UC professor Susanna Tong said wildlife corridors are becoming an increasingly important tool for saving species in urban spaces.

“With fragmented forests, many habitats that were once good for wildlife are being broken up,” Tong said. “Wildlife is unable to find habitat large enough to meet its survival needs. And even if there are suitable habitats, the distance between them may be too great.

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“Wildlife corridors connect these habitat patches. Since wildlife can travel and migrate from patch to patch, the likelihood of finding food and shelter is higher and they can still survive in the fragmented landscape.

While Pileated’s population is stable today, that wasn’t always the case, Hu said.

“The population of this bird experienced a huge decline in the late 18th and 19th centuries when many forests were converted to agriculture,” she said. “But when the reforestation started, he recovered.”

And the United States lost similar species in the blink of an eye due to sudden habitat loss.

“There are so many species in urban areas that we don’t pay attention to, especially when they’re not considered vulnerable,” Hu said.

With development eating away at more forests in this congested county, the tipping point could come quickly and unexpectedly, she said.

“You can’t fix it overnight,” Hu said. “It’s not just about planting more trees. Birds need mature forests, so it would take 30 to 50 years to replace their habitat. At least we can protect these riparian forest corridors and ensure that existing trees reach maturity.

Thanks to the University of Cincinnati for providing this news.

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