Life With(out) Birds
All around us, outside of our own created experiences, lies the natural world; a place that provides us with endless input. Think of a time you might have been studying for a final exam, or when you worked a grueling amount of overtime at work; perhaps you took a walk or gazed up at the stars to ease your mind. Spending time outdoors fills us with an unmatched sense of connection to nature. The rush of a breeze or crashing waves heightening our sonic view and the always-present chirping of birds. Whether you are an avid birdwatcher, or you simply enjoy the silhouette of a gull in front of the setting sun, there is something mystical about these flying beauties. Imagine a sky without any birds. Many species of Canadian birds face constant risk of endangerment due to decreasing populations, difficult nesting areas, and urban expansion.
Who is the Lewis’s Woodpecker?
The Lewis’s Woodpecker is a medium-sized bird, indigenous to parts of North America such as the Okanagan Valley in British Colombia, Canada, the southern portions of the United States, and Northern Mexico. These unique-looking woodpeckers bear a slight resemblance to Robins due to their dark complexion and colorful bellies. However, they are distinguishable from Robins and other birds such as the Pileated Woodpecker due to their pinkish-red belly and chest, darker red face, and pointed beaks.
Named after the explorer Meriwether Lewis, these birds have the build and ability to find nourishment by digging their beaks into trees. Though this action is synonymous with other species of woodpecker, the Lewis’s Woodpecker is unique in that it also uses the method called “flycatching” (using an aerial view to spot its prey before swooping in to catch it). They eat insects such as ants and wasps and are also partial to berries and seeds.
The Lewis’s Woodpecker was first discovered in 1805 and was once a flourishing species, but has seen a steady decline in the past 50 years. The Canadian Breeding Bird Survey in 2019 found that there are now only between 315 and 460 pairs of Lewis Woodpeckers in Canada. According to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, there has been an estimated 82 percent decline in the Lewis Woodpecker population in North America between the years 1966 and 2015.
Designation of these Canadian Birds
Due to the worrisome and rapid decline of the Lewis’s Woodpecker and the estimation that there are well under 1000 of these birds in the country, the Canadian bird has been deemed “threatened” by organizations such as The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada or COSEWIC for short. Threatened means that without decisive and enforced action being taken, it is highly probable that this bird will enter the realm of being classified as an endangered Canadian bird.
What threatens the Lewis’s Woodpecker?
The Lewis’s Woodpecker relies heavily on naturally formed tree stands, or snags (dead or fire-damaged trees that are left to decompose naturally) that lay near wetlands, or grasslands with an abundance of insects, herbs, vegetation, and all other nourishment. The following are some of the highest risk factors for the Lewis Woodpecker according to the Species At Risk Registry of Canada.
Urban and Agricultural Development:
This refers to the urban and agricultural expansion of things such as the construction of housing developments, roadways, and general population growth. For example, in certain areas that offer suitable living conditions for the Lewis’s Woodpecker, trees such as the Ponderosa Pine and The Cottonwood are being majorly reduced due to urban expansion. This loss of trees drastically affects the species’ ability to find adequate housing in certain areas.
Removal of Snags:
Snags or dead trees are often removed due to safety concerns. Areas rich with snags such as parks or hiking trails may have to remove these trees for risk of human injury. Aside from the risk to humans, it is also common to remove snags for optic or aesthetic purposes. The removal of these dead trees may seem like the right choice but also accounts for the destruction of a large portion of nesting and feeding areas for the Lewis Woodpecker and other birds in Canada.
Similar to the removal of standing dead trees is the removal of live trees for economic and business purposes. Tree removal for businesses such as the sale of firewood also reduces the real estate for many different species of birds.
What is the plan?
The Species At Risk Act or SARA exists in Canada for the specific purpose of working to prevent the disappearance of wildlife in the country. The Canadian government, using SARA is working to increase the national population of the Lewis Woodpecker by placing their focus on fostering a healthy environment for the birds in the six main regions that they inhabit. The plan currently in place revolves around three main points of action:
Proper breeding areas:
Finding the locations around Canada for the Lewis’s Woodpecker to be able to thrive in. These habitat considerations include things like: tree population and density, vegetation, type of trees, insect life, and ability to protect and manage the land.
Management or protection:
Ideally, the most desirable locations for these Canadian birds to live in will be able to be protected under the laws of conservation. Bird sanctuaries have seen massive success in Canada and protected land allows for birds like the Lewis’s Woodpecker to thrive and for them to ultimately increase their population.
However, due to the importance of their health and progression, and the fact that not all suitable land can be protected there is an importance in land management. Land management involves stewardship programs that work in an effort to conserve and manage the areas in which Lewis’s Woodpeckers live, ensuring that the area remains suitable and does not succumb to unknown risks. Between 2007 and 2017, Nature Conservancy Canada injected natural, native heart-rot fungi into trees in many protected areas in the Kootenay Mountains in British Columbia to eventually create more wildlife habitats for cavity-dependent species that rely on them for food and shelter.
Monitoring and furthering research:
An important step towards the success of Lewis’s Woodpeckers in Canada is to continue monitoring and researching their populations around the country. In doing this there is a chance to discover what other risks and threats might exist for their species, what might be working well in their preservation and growth and what methods might be worth implementing to further help them. There is also an importance in working collaboratively with Mexico and the United States as the birds live amongst all three North American countries.
Environment Canada has set their sights on drastically increasing the population with hopes of reaching 600 pairs of healthy birds by the year 2040.
What can you do?
As always, one of the most important tools we have as humans is information. To learn more about the Lewis’s Woodpecker and other birds that might be in danger of population decrease, we suggest checking out organizations such as The Nature Conservancy of Canada and the organization of Avian Conservation and Ecology. If Canadian bird health and population is of interest to you we suggest finding more information about where to donate and even ways that you can physically become involved.
In the meantime, if you are considering having trees removed due to illness or proximity to structures it might be worth keeping them or removing their foliage and leaving the stump as a perching point for birds. Trees offer entire ecosystems for animals, plants, and insects, and if you must have them taken down please consider how you may be able to repurpose them to help nature conservation in your own way.
Let’s work together in taking good care of the Earth! – GuidED