Caroline Stahala is Audubon Florida’s new Panhandle Program Manager located in Panama City. Caroline has lived in Florida since 2005 and worked in a variety of ecosystems and bird species including woodpecker species, shorebirds, wading birds, grasslands songbirds and tropical parrots. Enjoy her latest post, below.
I have always had a fondness for woodpeckers, therefore, I was thrilled when a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers set up a nest in a dead oak tree in my new northwest Florida sandhills backyard. These birds are expected in managed forests but I didn’t really expect them in my backyard!
This species has been on a consistent decline since the mid 1960’s with an estimated 50% population reduction. This summer I had the pleasure of sitting on my back patio watching the parents fly in and out of the cavity in the dead oak tree. No wonder they picked my backyard, Red-headed woodpeckers are cavity nesters that seem to prefer existing cavities in snags for nesting and roosting. This means dead trees or dead snags are vital to the species. Of course most of us remove these sorts of snags from our yards.
It was obvious when the chicks fledged because of their begging calls. The chicks would start calling in a far pine tree and that’s when the distinctive white flash of the parents’ wings would appear headed straight for the chicks, most likely to feed them. This species is known to cache or store food for later on. Although I did not observe this particular behavior, these woodpeckers did exhibit some remarkable mid-air insect catches and also foraged on the ground quite frequently. Towards the end of August, the chicks were identical in silhouette to the parents but the young woodpecker’s could still be heard begging. I hope they were calling due to laziness and not because they couldn’t feed themselves yet, because in mid-September, they disappeared. Although they are resident in Florida, they must have been looking for habitat that was better suited to their needs. Maybe an area with more acorns or insects. It is common for these birds to move from breeding locations even as residents.
Maybe more oaks in my backyard would provide them with acorns for the winter, but that could also decrease some of the open space they like to forage in. Well, I will just have to wait for them to return next spring. But in the mean time, maybe this means the sapsuckers that left rows and rows of holes in my oak trees will now be returning. Stay tuned and I will let you know if they show up.
For more information on Red-headed Woodpeckers or other bird species, please visit Audubon’s website birds.audubon.org.