Black-backed woodpecker nest-tree preference in burned forests of the Sierra Nevada, California


  • Associate Editor: DeStefano


Black-backed woodpeckers (Picoides arcticus) are well-known to occur at higher densities in recently burned forests than they do in nearby green forests. In the forests of the Sierra Nevada, California, USA, there is relatively little information on the types of nest trees that these birds use in recently burned forests. From 2009 to 2011, we studied nest-tree preference by black-backed woodpeckers in 2 burned forests in the northern Sierra Nevada. For each of 31 nest trees and 389 randomly selected trees, we recorded decay class, diameter at breast height, top condition, and species. We also recorded the number of snags with >23 cm diameter at breast height within an 11.3-m radius of each nest tree and randomly selected tree. We evaluated nest-tree preference by comparing the characteristics of nest trees to randomly selected trees. Black-backed woodpeckers preferred dead but not heavily decayed trees and moderate (29–61 cm dbh) diameter trees. There was no evidence that black-backed woodpeckers had strong preferences for trees with broken tops or trees of particular species. Snag density around nest trees was higher than around randomly selected trees. Our results suggest that in conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada, the distribution of black-backed woodpeckers in post-fire environments is influenced more by surrounding snag densities than by particular characteristics of potential nest trees. © 2012 The Wildlife Society.