The white-headed woodpecker (Picoides albolarvatus) is one of the icons of the ponderosa pine forests. As indicated in its name, this bird stands out from others due to its unique coloring. In fact, it is the only bird in North America with an all white head and all black body. The WHWO forages on pine seeds and insects, and nests in cavities it excavates in snags.
Although the WHWO is not currently listed as a threatened or endangered species, it is considered a sensitive species in the Mt. Adams area. The greatest threat is loss of ideal habitat due to over-logging of large diameter pines and fire suppression. A WHWO breeding pair typically requires about 200 acres of open ponderosa pine habitat – that’s at least 150 football fields! Ideal habitat is defined by an open pine forest with a healthy mixture of varying diameter trees and snags. Buildup of shrub cover and woody debris due to fire suppression contributes to increased nest predation by small mammals.
Passing through to the Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, you may have noticed some restoration activity in recent weeks. MARS is currently working with the Refuge to enhance upland wildlife habitat, which includes improving habitat for the WHWO by thinning trees and eliminating shrub and debris buildup. A prescribed underburn by USFWS fire crews is being planned to follow in the spring of 2016.
Although somewhat elusive, the white-headed woodpecker can be spotted year-round in the ponderosa woods around Glenwood, including the Pine Flats Tract of the Mt. Adams Community Forest and Conboy Lake NWR along the Willard Springs Trail. Listen for a series of “pik-pik-pik…” calls in the overhead canopy to find this elusive bird. For more information on the WHWO and many other birds, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology online bird guide. (Photo: www.terrysteelenaturephotography.com, 2015)