AUGUST 6, 2019
Fire is a natural part of western forests, but the changing nature of fire in many parts of North America may pose challenges for birds. One bird in particular, the Black-backed Woodpecker, specializes in using recently-burned forests in western North America, but like humans looking for a new family home, it's picky about exactly where it settles. New research published in The Condor: Ornithological Applications suggests that these birds actually prefer to nest near the edges of burned patches—and these edges are getting harder to find as wildfires have become bigger and more severe.
Andrew Stillman, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Connecticut, along with colleagues from The Institute for Bird Populations and the U.S. Forest Service, looked at nest site selection and nest success of Black-backed Woodpeckers in burned forests of northern California. Over a period of eight years, the researchers located and monitored more than one hundred nests while measuring nest site characteristics across multiple spatial scales. The birds in the study strongly preferred to nest in severely burned stands that had lots of dead trees. But the birds chose to place their nests near the edges of these high-severity burned patches, typically within 500 meters of a patch with live trees.