SEPTEMBER 23, 2019
by Angela Nicoletti, Florida International University
At the very edges of urbanization, Northern Flicker woodpeckers live in dead palm trees raising their young. Their populations are on the decline throughout the state, especially South Florida. But Joshua Diamond was lucky enough to capture a few on film, along with other species of woodpeckers.
Diamond, an FIU instructor who recently graduated with his Ph.D. in environmental science, conducted the first research on woodpecker nesting habits in South Florida. After inspecting more than 1,860 nest cavities in 967 trees, Diamond discovered that while woodpeckers nested in pines and oaks, their favorite South Florida trees are palms. Dead ones, to be exact. In fact, more than 90 percent of woodpecker holes were made in dead royal palm trees.
"People like having life in their yards or neighborhoods. They see a dead tree and want to get rid of it," Diamond said. "But they might not know how much more life it's going to bring."
Urbanization presents challenges for many species. Woodpeckers, though, have learned to live in Miami. As Diamond points out, this is a really good thing. They are a major indicator of how well we are doing at managing our cities as healthy and balanced ecosystems.
Woodpeckers are an important ecological keystone species, because when they vacate a nest, it does not go to waste. Other animals, including eastern screen owls and exotic species like parrots, take up residence. "If we lose woodpeckers, we lose a lot more," Diamond said.
The idea for Diamond's research came from his bicycle rides around South Florida. He often passed by palm trees peppered with woodpecker holes. Growing up in Washington, D.C., he was accustomed to seeing these birds make nests in oaks and other hardwood trees. It made him wonder: Why were they choosing palms?