You’d better wuk

Ok, this post is not about RuPaul.  For those of you who ended up here on a google search, I apologize.  I just couldn’t resist the power of a good mnemonic, though.  This morning on my way into work, I got a nice surprise as I heard that repeated “wuk wuk wuk” sound piercing through the Willow Oaks along Selwyn.  I glanced up in time to see a large bird (ok, a very large bird) fly up to the trunk of one of those big trees.  The culprit was one of the most recognizable and exciting birds around- the Pileated Woodpecker.

The most striking part about the siting this morning is that Selwyn is not really the habitat where I expected to find one of these birds.  While I’m used to seeing Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers and lots of flickers around, the Pileated is a bit of an oddity.  In part, because it’s such a large bird, they tend to be slightly more restrictive in their habitat usage.  In particular, they tend to be found more frequently in more natural forested habitats because they have a preference for older trees with some heartwood rot and large snags (broken trees).

Renken, R.B. and E.P. Wiggers.  1993.  Habitat characteristics related to Pileated Woodpecker densities in Missouri.  Wilson Bulletin 105:  77-83.

This type of tree provides an easier way for the birds to dig out a nesting cavity or a roost site.  Healthy trees are, by nature, a bit tougher to work with.  The nice manicured yards of Myers Park don’t tend to have much in the way of dead trees in them, so I’m surprised to find the woodpecker up in this area.

Conner, R.N., R.G. Hooper, H.W. Crawford and H.S. Mosby.  1975.  Woodpecker nesting habitat in cut and uncut woodlands in Virginia.  J. Wildlife Manage.  39:  144-150

There are, of course, a couple possible explanations that need to be considered:

1.  There’s a tree experiencing some rot over there.  I didn’t have time to go investigate and still make it to work, so I can’t answer that, yet.

2.  The woodpecker was out foraging.  The territory of an individual may range between 52 and 130ha (hectares…100ha = .38 sq miles = 247 acres).   It’s quite possible, then, that the bird actually has a roost closer to Freedom Park or in a part of the neighborhood with better trees and was just out looking for ants this morning.

Renken, R.B. and E.P. Wiggers.  1989.  Forest characteristics related to Pileated Woodpecker territory size in Missouri.  Condor 91:  642-652

3.  It could have been a young bird leaving its parents territory.  Young may stay around their parents’ territory for a period of time before going off to wander until they find a suitable territory of their own.  That could have been the case here.

In any of these instances, I don’t have much in the way of real information.  All of these ideas are certainly possibilities that could explain what I saw.  Now I just have to keep my eye (and ears) out for the bird and hope that going to ‘wuk’ doesn’t get in the way of trying to track it down for answers!


About thomasbiology

I'm an Associate Professor of Biology at Queens University of Charlotte with a background in animal behavior with an emphasis in bird song. I've got two secret goals with this blog (well, since I'm sharing them, they're not so secret): 1. To encourage people to look at the natural world around them- not just as a hiking destination, but to notice all the little things moving around them all the time; and 2. To show some of the science that relates to these little things moving around. There's some really fascinating research out there that so few people get to see.
This entry was posted in birds, ecology, foraging, vocalizations. Bookmark the permalink.

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