Sunday, January 17, 2010


Sometimes, regardless of where we live, some of us may occasionally take for granted the notable aspects of the place that attracted us there to begin with. My baby sister, a 10+ year resident of Teton Valley, probably no longer brakes in amazement to gawk at ravens eating trash on the side of the road (like I do). I suspect Stellar's jays, antelope, and Clark's nutcrackers are to Alyssa what tufted titmice, red-tailed hawks, and coyotes are to her Missouri-bound sister. They're nice to see, they were pretty amazing to us years ago, but they're always around, part of the landscape that we now hike through for exercise. You go elsewhere to be amazed.

Rewind to the early part of the decade when I first moved to Missouri for a summer job and found myself surrounded by red-headed woodpeckers. The large, garrulous, and dapper birds came to my feeders, they ate acorns around my storage shed house, they filled the managed woodlands and even the neighborhoods in the area with their repetitive churls as they moved from post oak to white oak.

So, I guess I was a little disappointed while exploring the rest of the Ozark Highlands to learn that red-headed woodpeckers weren't the dominant woodland birds in other settings. I spent so much time in the (frequently burned) 3,907 acres I worked in that I thought the rest of the Ozarks looked just like it, so surely I'd find the same density of red-headed woodpeckers out there, too. I didn't know I was working in a reference point-landscape....

Because I was wrong on both accounts, I set out on the winter bird survey last week excited once again to hear and see red-headed woodpeckers. My colleague/birding partner mentioned earlier that day that he has so many of them in his own chert woodlands--which he burns--that when his 4 year old daughter set her stale gingerbread house on the deck after Christmas, red-headed, red-bellied and pileated woodpeckers descended on the confection like a flock of starlings in a McDonald's parking lot littered with French fries.

The winter bird survey occurred in the same place I conducted my spring/summer survey, which was notably devoid of red-headed woodpeckers (less than 10?). In fact, large groups of them didn't arrive here until July. These woodlands possess the structure, forage, and old growth trees required for breeding red-headed woodpeckers, but they don't spend the breeding season there.

Nevertheless, red-headeds are out right now in high numbers in certain parts of the Ozarks. Here, in my official (thanks to the Columbia Police Department who published lines of demarcation between high and low crime neighborhoods) bad neighborhood, one filled with big old trees, the Northern flickers, red-bellieds, downies and even the occasional hairy and pileated woodpeckers devour suet on a weekly basis, but no word from the red-headeds.


Ted C. MacRae said...

Growing up in western Missouri, I came to believe that redheads were as ubiquitous as cardinals. They've become a rare treat since moving to the east side, and though I live tucked deep inside dense, upland forest, I keep hoping that someday I will see one at my peanut feeders and suet cakes. I see them occasionally in the valley below, where million dollar "executive horse farms", with their green pastures next to old growth forest in Babler State Park have, ironically, actually created favorable habitat for these birds.

Allison Vaughn said...

I'd love to have one at my feeders, too. Stunning birds, aren't they? And you're right, they do seem as common as cardinals in the western part of the state!