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Urban Decay?

The other day when I came home from work, I was relieved to hear the tapping of a woodpecker. I was glad that the insect-eating bird had decided to stay in the area, considering that my neighbors had cut down three of the prime habitat dead trees in the alley behind my house in Pittsburgh.

Dead trees, better known as “snag” trees, are not all that common in the city, because the general public consensus is that if a tree is dead, it is unsightly and unattractive and should not be left standing. But in an alley, where they can do no harm and offer the benefit of wildlife habitat, it was sad for me to see snag trees lost.

Downy Woodpecker; E.R. Deggiger/Color+Pic, Inc.

Downy Woodpecker; E.R. Degginger/Color+Pic, Inc.

The woodpecker, probably the Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) that I had observed the week before working on a small dead branch on the Silver Maple in my garden, had previously been working on a larger hole in one of the dead trees in the alley. I had been hoping that it was for nesting, as woodpeckers are cavity nesters. I was just about ready to set up my tripod to take pictures if that was indeed the case.

Cavity nesters such as woodpeckers usually prefer to make their own cavities, as opposed to other cavity nesters like Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows that are receptive to using nesting boxes. Without dead trees to provide habitat for cavity excavation, woodpeckers will go elsewhere in search of nesting snags.

Personally, I think it is a thrill to live in the city and hear woodpeckers, and even better to see them. Living in urban areas, we are so used to hearing traffic, sirens, boom boxes, dogs barking, etc. It is nice to hear birds like Mourning Doves and woodpeckers once in awhile to remind us that nature is still all around us.


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