The Audubon Society recently announced that the last 40 years of data collected
during their annual Audubons Christmas Bird Count have revealed a trend toward
northward and inward movement of North American birds. Audubon scientists have concluded
that the trend by some 177 species is clearly correlated to long-term winter temperature
increases rather than normal fluctuations in populations and is further evidence of global
While these movements might provide some interesting new observation opportunities for
birders, it represents a threat to some of the species affected. Perhaps the recent
arrival in our area of the tufted titmouse is an example of this northward push.
Dan Jackson, president of the Coulee Region chapter of the Audubon Society, also noted
that the absence of once reported evening grosbeaks in the past several years of the local
CBC might be an example of a species moving out of an area it once occupied.
At any rate such shifts, if they are due to global warming, might put some species at
risk. Greg Butcher, Audubon director of bird conservation, warns that "the long term
picture is not good for many species, and even in the short term, a single harsh winter
could have a devastating impact on birds that have moved too far."
Jon Flicker, Audubon president, gives an even more ominous interpretation: "Experts
predict that global warming will mean dire consequences, even extinction, for many wild
bird species, and this analysis suggests that the process leading down that path is
already well underway."
Both suggest that governments take action to prevent man made increases in global warming.
We have already seen with our ring-necked pheasants and ruffed grouse that changes in
habitat and severe winters can indeed affect birds that have adapted to our area. We can
only imagine what impacts wholesale changes in the climate will have on other birds as
well as on other species that have become adapted to certain conditions over thousands of
These reports from the Audubon Society also show how average citizens cooperating in
activities such as the Christmas bird count can contribute to our knowledge of what is
going on in the world around us, whether the news is good or not so good.
The early February break in our own wintry weather certainly arrived at a good time. It
gave a lot of people a chance to get outside and get some relief from bad cases of cabin
fever. For me, it gave me some welcome respite from the bitter cold I have often had to
endure as I followed the lives of wildlife in the area.
Even when I took pictures of eagles or other critters from inside my car, I had to bundle
up in insulated layers as if I was going ice fishing and occasionally start the engine to
thaw out. Since I often leave the car windows open, I have had water bottles and apples
freeze in the car while I was taking pictures. Being able to enjoy the fresh air in above
freezing temperatures once again was a welcome relief indeed.
But the frequently grueling days paid off as often as not. One of the birds I finally saw
while driving through La Crosses Pettibone Park one particularly cold day was the
pileated woodpecker. They are spectacular birds, as large as crows, with a mostly black
back and a rakish red crest on top of the heavy-billed head.
They are rather common in the area but are not often seen. I hear their frantic squawking
often, whether I am in heavily wooded valleys, hills or river bottoms.
I have even heard them while watching their smaller cousins, the downy, hairy, red-bellied
and red-headed woodpeckers at the feeder on Goose Island. Twice they passed through the
narrow woods where the feeder is, but they have never come near the feeder itself while I
I also have heard them often in Pettibone Park, but on that cold winter day, two pileated
woodpeckers flew right in front of my car and landed on a tree not far ahead. By the time
I pulled over and got the camera ready, they had moved from the best location giving me
only a couple quick shots before they took off again. Then they landed in the thick woods
where they proceeded to squawk loudly at each other and play "peek-a-boo" from
opposite sides of the same tree.
They did this for almost 15 minutes, never once giving me a really clear shot through the
thick undergrowth. I knew better than to try to get out and "sneak" up on them
though. Most birds and critters are far less tolerant of people once we get out of our
vehicles. My best hope was that they would go higher in the tree or come to a closer tree.
In the end, they did neither, but I was happy to have had the chance to watch them
interact for such a long time.
I assume that their activity had something to do with upcoming breeding, and I believe
that it was a mated pair. Pileated woodpeckers mate for life and are known to stay
together all year long.
The pairs occupy their regular territory during the winter rather than migrate, and they
spend considerable time and effort to chop out a new oblong shaped nest each year. They
will lay around four eggs in the wood chip-lined cavity and both parents share in the
incubation and rearing of the young.
It would be wonderful to find one of their nests sometime. There must be plenty if them