Wildlife of the Week: white-headed woodpecker

Bird species owes its success to wildfires



A male White-Headed Woodpecker rests on a pine tree, May 5, 2019, in Cle Elum, Wash.


The white-headed woodpecker is a species of woodpecker only found in western North America, with its range mapped on Birds of the World as following the Cascades and Sierra Nevadas.

This unique species has adapted to living and foraging in burnt woodlands. The woodpecker owes its success to the perches created on burnt trees and the sudden influx of wood-boring beetle larvae that infest the trees post-burn, said Mark Swanson, associate professor for the School of the Environment.

Swanson said he recounted often seeing white-headed woodpeckers in forests that were controlled and managed by fire throughout the years, such as parts of Yosemite National Park.

In Washington, the most reliable place to find this species is around Cle Elum and Teanaway, as the fairly recent fires that tore through the local Ponderosa Pine woodlands have created excellent habitats for the species.

Although wildfires can often be dangerous to towns and people, the white-headed woodpecker acts as a reminder that they are also part of our forests’ natural cycle.