Space use and foraging patterns of the white-headed woodpecker in western Idaho

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


The white-headed woodpecker (Picoides albolarvatus) is a species of conservation concern that is strongly associated with ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)-dominated forests in the Inland Northwest. More information on home range size and habitat selection patterns is needed to inform conservation of the white-headed woodpecker, a focal management species for dry-forest restoration treatments. We examined whether home range size was associated with food resources and if fine-scale habitat characteristics influenced selection of foraging sites. During the post-fledging periods of 2014 and 2015, we radio-tracked 11 white-headed woodpeckers in forests of west-central Idaho. These forests were historically managed for timber harvest, resulting in removal of large-diameter, cone-producing ponderosa pine trees. We hypothesized that ponderosa pine cones would be a highly-valued food resource providing seeds and arthropods. We expected smaller home ranges to be associated with a greater availability of cones for foraging and that cone foraging would be concentrated in core use areas. We used foraging behavior to test this hypothesis, specifically, the proportion of time foraging on cones as an index of cone availability. Home range sizes ranged from 24 to 169 ha (90% fixed-kernel estimates). Consistent with our hypothesis, individuals with relatively small home ranges spent a greater proportion of foraging time on cones (Beta superscript 1 [SE] = 2.48[1.32], P = 0.096; Beta superscript 2 [SE] = -5.00[1.61], P = 0.014). Cone foraging was also higher in core use areas compared to home range peripheries for individuals exhibiting at least moderate cone foraging. We also expected foraging woodpeckers to favor larger diameter pines in sites with moderate to high canopy closure. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed foraging-site selection by comparing habitat characteristics between foraging trees and available trees, which provided support for our foraging site prediction (Beta superscript TREEDIAMETER [SE] = 3.50[0.43], P <0.001; Beta superscript CANOPY [SE] = 1.74[0.41], P <0.001; Beta superscript SPECIES [SE] = 1.43[0.33], P <0.001). Our results suggest that large diameter pines provide important foraging resources, and that landscapes with more productive cone crops could support greater numbers of white-headed woodpeckers. We recommend restoration treatments that retain high-density patches of large diameter pines while promoting mosaics of open and closed canopies at larger spatial scales.




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