[mou] Black-backed Woodpecker in Goodhue County

Owen Scott McMurtrey mcmurtro at carleton.edu
Sun Nov 2 17:27:07 CST 2008

I apologize for the rushed description of my last post.  I was in a hurry and I wasn't sure if I would be back at a computer again this evening.

As I said earlier, there is a female Black-backed Woodpecker in the far northeastern corner of Carleton's Cowling Arboretum.  In the 1940s, several species of pine trees were planted in this area and a small stand (which I believe is mostly White Pine) has been allowed to remain today. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a fire, controlled or otherwise, in the conifer plantation area of the 'Arb'. This area is in Goodhue County, but I'm not sure exactly where the boundary is.

When I first saw the BBWO it was on the trunk of a large pine only about 6-8 feet off the ground.  It allowed me to approach within 15-20 feet of it. After I tripped over a log, it moved, but did not fly, 30 feet or so up the trunk of the tree.  After a few minutes, it flew to a neighboring pine, then quickly flew back to the original tree.

When the bird was on the trunk of the pine, it was scraping the bark off the tree in huge quantities.  After scraping off nearly all the layers of bark in a given area, the bird would occasionally rap at the now clean area. The scraping and rapping were the only sounds the bird made for the 15 minutes I spent watching it.

I have never seen a Black-backed Woodpecker before because they're very rare in Illinois.  It seems like they would not be prone to vagrancy, so it seemed like it might be significant here in the southern part of the state, too. On the MOU website, it lists one occurrence of a BBWO in Goodhue County on April 20th, 1935.  There are two occurrences listed for Rice County, from November 25th of both 1981 and 1984.  The observed species list for the Cowling Arboretum does not note any occurrences of BBWO, so those seen in Rice County were probably seen elsewhere, though I'm not sure of the validity of the 'Arb's' observed species lists.

After going through the pictures again, I did find one where there are clearly only three toes visible...also the rest of the bird looks exactly like a female BBWO.  Here is a direct link to a better photo than the original: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7851430@N06/2997379976/ and a direct link to the original photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7851430@N06/2996226949/.

Owen McMurtrey
Carleton College
Northfield, MN

----- Original Message -----
From: "Owen Scott McMurtrey" <mcmurtro at carleton.edu>
To: mou-net at moumn.org
Sent: Sunday, November 2, 2008 3:46:38 PM GMT -06:00 US/Canada Central
Subject: Black-backed Woodpecker in Goodhue County

Today at approximately 2:00 PM while in the conifer plantation in Carleton College's Cowling Arboretum I found a female Black-backed Woodpecker (the eastern part of the 'Arb' is in Goodhue County).  The bird was easily approached, appeared to have three toes, did not make any vocalizations, and scraped the bark off of the White Pine it was climbing on.

Pictures will be posted at http://www.flickr.com/photos/7851430@N06/.  

I can add more details later if needed.

Owen McMurtrey
Carleton College
Northfield, MN

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