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Piliated woodpecker takes up residence in Kenmare park...

A woodpecker common in the subarctic forests of Canada, as well as in the northeastern United States, has been spotted several times in and around Kenmare in the past four months.

2/06/18 (Tue)

A woodpecker common in the subarctic forests of Canada, as well as in the northeastern United States, has been spotted several times in and around Kenmare in the past four months.

The piliated woodpecker has been seen in this part of North Dakota before, but not often enough to provide accurate local data.

It’s considered the second-largest woodpecker species in North America and is somewhat common in the northeastern part of the state, most notably in the Pembina Gorge near Walhalla.

It’s a big dashing bird with a flaming crest that excavates deep into rotten woods to get at nests and feast on carpenter ants.

It forages mainly by probing, prying and digging through dead wood in search of insects. It has been known to tear stumps apart to find food and may clamber about acrobatically in small branches to get at berries.

Russ Rytter is a local birder who photographed a piliated woodpecker during the Christmas Bird Count, suggesting the Dryocopus pileatus, is extending its range.

“I had reports of it in October, then it disappeared for a while,” Rytter said. “They’re more common in northern Minnesota.”

Rytter, who worked a number of years at UND, said they’re consistently seen around Grand Forks and points south around Mayville and Hillsboro.

According to the North Dakota Birding Society, since 2005, only five society sightings of the piliated woodpecker have been recorded. They include two in north Fargo, one at Sully’s Hill near Devils Lake and on at Turtle River State Park near Arvilla.

Laurie Richardson, who is a biologist at the Lostwood Refuge, said she has seen two of them in the past five years.

“It’s kind of a rare bird,” she said. “But it depends on the winter we’re having.”

According to Richardson, if it has a food source, it will most likely stick around.

Rytter, who first saw the piliated woodpecker about five years ago in this area, believes the bird in the Downtown Square was the same one spotted on the refuge as well as one that was sighted working on a tree in a coulee adjacent to Division Street.

Rytter said fellow birder Ron Martin of Minot, has been in Kenmare three times looking for this bird but wasn’t able to locate it.

According to Martin, the sighting in the Kenmare park is only the third sighting he’s been aware of in Ward County in a number of years of being a bird watcher.

“They nest in the Turtle Mountains and they’ve been seen on the J.Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge (Upham),” he said. “There’s a mating pair in the Denbigh Forest. They’re expanding their range and moving across North Dakota. They’re slowly pushing west.”

Martin called downtown Kenmare “a marginal habitat” for the piliated woodpecker, but that this bird is adaptable provided there is a food source.

According to an organization called the Boreal Forest Songbird Initiative, 18 percent of the piliated woodpecker population lives in the forest. Their habitat reaches from northern California as far east as Nova Scotia and the New England states.

Some interesting research has been attached to this woodpecker in the past two years in the city of Chicago as well.

The PBS station, WTTV-TV, and the Chicago Tribune have both reported that in April of 2016, piliated woodpeckers suddenly began showing up in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Ironically, the western suburbs is where the emerald ash borer was actively destroying trees.

As the trees died from the ash borer’s destruction, the piliated woodpeckers feasted on the bugs.

A Cornell University study about the emerald ash borer in Detroit about the same time, linked the piliated woodpecker to the ash borer.

In summary, that study suggested that foraging birds, such as the piliated woodpecker increased as the emerald ash borer increased.

Finally, in 2006, the University of Chicago did research on the piliated woodpecker and found that over a two-year period, the woodpeckers chose to prey on the emerald ash borer.

In fact, data suggests that piliated woodpeckers consumed 85 percent of emerald ash borer populations in infested trees.

Christopher Whelan is a biology professor at the University of Chicago. He is reasonably certain there is a link between the two.

“We have really powerful evidence of these woodpeckers having an impact on the population of the emerald ash borer,” he said. “The piliated woodpecker won’t save a tree once its infested, but they may save the forest.”

Thus far, there hasn’t been any evidence of the emerald ash borer in North Dakota. However, it has been doing some tree damage in the city of Winnipeg.

Coincidence, perhaps. But the bird is here, it has been sighted by several people and all the descriptions indicate it’s one bird, a male... Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!