How important is dead wood for woodpeckers foraging in eastern North American boreal forests?
Antoine Nappi, Pierre Drapeau, Alain Leduc.
Dead and decaying trees may be a limited resource for woodpeckers in managed forests, especially for species that rely on dead wood for nesting and foraging. Whereas recent nest web studies greatly increased our understanding of nest tree use by woodpeckers, knowledge on woodpeckers foraging requirements is much less developed. We quantified and compared tree selection patterns and foraging behavior of six bark-foraging woodpeckers - downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus), American three-toed woodpecker (Picoides dorsalis), black-backed woodpecker (Picoides arcticus), yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyropicus varius) and pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) - that co-occur in eastern boreal forests of North America. A total of 271 observation bouts and more than 600 foraging trees were recorded at three study sites characterized as mixedwood, conifer, and burn. Our results show that dead wood represents an important foraging substrate for most bark-foraging woodpeckers in Canadian eastern boreal forests. However, significant differences in individual species were found with regard to substrate use patterns, foraging behavior and associated prey. Woodpeckers were categorized according to their selection for specific stages of tree degradation, with the yellow-bellied sapsucker and the pileated woodpecker representing opposite ends of this gradient. The black-backed woodpecker showed the highest use of dead wood and was very specific in its tree selection by using mostly recently dead trees. We emphasize that providing foraging substrates for most woodpecker species not only requires maintaining dead wood but also paying heed to the underlying dynamics of dead wood (e.g. recruitment and degradation) in managed boreal forest landscapes.