Red-headed Woodpeckers, including nesting pairs
and family groups, were once seen regularly
on the Carden Alvar. There
has been a steady decline in observations. I saw one in Carden in
2017, but in 2018 there were no sightings there based on eBird maps.
The Red-headed Woodpecker is now fast disappearing from Ontario and
most of its range. In April 2018 it was listed as Endangered
in Canada by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in
CAUSES OF DECLINE: The Red-headed
Woodpecker is not adapting to the human-made (anthropogenic) changes
in the landscape of North America. One study found its reproductive
success is below the minimum required to offset mortality. The
decline is associated with reduced quality of the breeding habitat,
particularly the loss of dead standing trees used for nesting, food
storage and flycatching. Being a flycatching specialist, the
Red-headed Woodpecker may be affected by declines in large flying
insects needed to feed young. Another possible factor is fighting
with European Starlings and Red-bellied Woodpeckers which usurp its
nest sites, but a recent study found no support for this hypothesis.
Long ago Arthur Cleveland Bent (1939) noted in his Life Histories of
North American Birds that Red-headed Woodpeckers were often killed
by vehicles. Lastly, a recent study in 2017 concluded that increased
populations of Cooperís Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks are driving
the Red-headed Woodpecker decline by increased predation.
HABITAT: The Red-headed Woodpecker prefers
open deciduous woodlands with some dead trees and little or no
understory bordering fields. It often uses woodlot edges where it
sallies out from dead branches to catch flying insects. Cardenís
ranchlands with scattered trees are ideal habitat with dead elms and
poplars favoured for nesting. Red-headed Woodpecker habitat is
enhanced by cattle grazing and fire.
HABITS: The Red-headed Woodpecker is
migratory arriving in May in Carden and departing by mid-October.
For such a spectacular woodpecker, it is often inconspicuous and
easily overlooked unless spotted in flight. It is the most expert
and tireless flycatcher in the woodpecker family. This omnivorous
woodpecker eats insects, acorns, beechnuts and berries, and is one
of only four woodpecker species in the world that stores food. A few
spend the winter in southern Ontario feeding on cached food or at
FUTURE: Sightings of Red-headed
Woodpeckers on the Carden Alvar are now quite rare but not
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I thank Michel Gosselin
for proofing this note and Jean Iron for the photo.