Powdermill Nature Reserve

Woodpecker Nesting

woodpeckerDr. Jim Kellam, Assistant Professor of Biology at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA, has conducted a study of woodpecker nesting behavior at Powdermill Nature Reserve since 2008. During the months of May and June, he and a student listen for woodpecker calls and drumming and attempt to follow the birds to their nest holes, usually 25–50 feet above the ground in dead or dying trees.

In May 2010, Dr. Kellam found a total of 22 nests built by five species: downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, and northern flickers. He plots the location of each nest on a map and determines the minimum distance between nests. He also collects data on the trees used by each species and the kind of vegetation surrounding each nest tree. He plans to use Powdermill’s Geographic Information System to determine whether woodpecker nest locations are found within specific habitats or are scattered more randomly throughout the forest. This information will help forest managers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere determine the important features of a habitat that are important to a healthy woodpecker population.

Important aspects of parental behavior are also being revealed by close observation of nests. Both male and female woodpeckers incubate the eggs. Male incubation is common among woodpeckers but uncommon among other bird species.

Illustration: Red-bellied woodpecker by Mark A. Klingler, 2007