A Wildlife Smorgasbord, Served Cold

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe”   – John Muir

Squirrels, both red and gray, are frequent visitors to our bird feeders. But, they must do more than eat: avoid being eaten! A Red Fox has also been cruising the neighborhood, and small mammals are a dietary staple.

Morning doves, as many as two dozen, flutter in to feed several times a day. But, they too have natural enemies. Cooper’s hawks learn to hunt bird feeders (their fly-through restaurant), and doves are a favorite target.

Coyotes prey on deer, especially young, old and unhealthy ones. However, the greatest threat to deer in winter is a population that exceeds the carrying capacity of the habitat. Over time, excessive browsing by hungry deer destroys the forest understory, which has an adverse, domino effect on plant and animal diversity.

The dense vegetation in this scene is misleading. It obviously provides bedding cover, but is virtually devoid of palatable food.

Pileated woodpeckers are thriving in our woodlands, especially where tree mortality from ash decline, beech bark disease and other pests is high. Large dead and dying trees provide habitat for woodpeckers to drill for food and create nest cavities. Later, the excavations become critical nesting habitat for dozens of bird and mammal species – including the Tufted Titmouse.

When winters are severe, with heavy snow cover, a “winter thaw” can be the difference between life and death for wildlife. Turkeys are one species that benefit greatly from a warm spell in mid winter because they mainly forage on the ground.

In winter, blackbirds form large flocks that waste little time finding concentrated food sources. Barn yards and farm fields are favorite dining locations.

Photos by NB Hunter (Jan. – Feb., 2019). © All rights reserved.

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A Pileated Woodpecker Up Close

A declining maple tree with a dead central leader was the stage. Our largest woodpecker, hammering away in decayed wood in search of ants and other insects, provided the entertainment. I see or hear these large, crow-size woodpeckers almost daily, but this was a rare opportunity for me to see one up close, one that was more interested in carpenter ants than the human audience.

The cavity and foraging bird were clearly visible from the edge of my friends driveway. Unsure of the bird’s reaction to my presence, I started shooting immediately.

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Feeding was nearly continuous and moments like this were few and far between. The red stripe on the cheek told us this was a male.

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Excavations by pileated woodpeckers leave cavities in dead and dying trees that are critical habitat for many species of wildlife. Given the location, this exquisite cavity might be claimed by squirrels or owls. Arboriculture (landscape/residential tree care) practices generally call for the removal of dead and dying trees or tree parts in order to reduce hazards and maintain tree health and longevity. However, in cases where wildlife habitat is a priority and the hazard assessment is low, benign neglect might be a viable option.

PileatedExcavation#1 Photos by NB Hunter. ©All Rights Reserved.