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Bird of the Month: Pileated woodpecker

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Pileated woodpeckers are immediately recognizable by a bright red crest with a black and white body and wings. Pileated woodpeckers, a little smaller than a crow, are often seen moving up and down trees using their powerful beaks to chip into the trunk and branches that may hold ants and other insects. These birds may also eat fruits, berries and nuts.

These woodpeckers can live in a variety of forest types from the southeast United States to the Pacific Northwest. Throughout Minnesota, these large woodpeckers can be seen year-round.

What you can do to help woodpeckers

Dead branches and trees can provide important resources for birds like woodpeckers as well as other wildlife. More than 80 species of birds rely on dead trees (called snags) for nesting, food storing, hunting, roosting and resting. Mammals, reptiles and insects also rely on snags. This is particularly true in oak woodlands, where a large variety of bird species eat the insects attracted to decaying wood, store acorns in the soft wood of standing snags, and make nests in their cavities. Leaving dead trees on your property is a simple way to help birds and other wildlife.

Although woodpeckers have sturdy beaks designed for chipping away at wood, the birds prefer the softer dead or decaying wood in snags, where they find a variety of insects. Snags also provide good lookout towers for birds like bald eagles and red-tailed hawks. Nature creates snags via fire, lightning strikes, old age and disease. If you are interested in providing wildlife habitat on your property, it's best to leave dead trees where they stand. If a dead tree is causing a problem on your property, consider only removing part of it if the tree is a native species and is not infested with an invasive species such as emerald ash borer. If you must remove a dead tree or branch, consider placing it somewhere else so that birds and wildlife can take advantage of it. Good locations include those near water, near other live trees and on the edges of fields.

What Audubon is doing to help woodpeckers

Pileated Woodpeckers benefit from Audubon Minnesota's work in the Vermillion Bottoms Lower Cannon River near Red Wing, which contains some of the largest tracts of healthy floodplain forest along the Upper Mississippi River. These forests provide quality habitat for many bird species, including rare species like cerulean warbler and red-shouldered hawk. Sustaining these floodplain forests is also critical to the future survival of floodplain forest-dependent species such as prothonotary warblers and wood ducks. Audubon is conducting forest restoration by controlling reed canary grass and planting trees.

Invasive reed canary grass is encroaching into existing high-quality floodplain forest. The extent of floodplain forest will decline without slowing or stopping the expansion of reed canary grass and simultaneously encouraging the growth of new native trees. Audubon is partnering with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to restore sections of the forest by controlling reed canary grass and planting trees and will complete the project in the summer of 2018.

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