In recent weeks the Red-bellied Woodpeckers have been more frequently seen in the arboretum, most commonly along the edge of the forest just west of Blossom Corner, Chalet Pruche and the Sugar Shack near to the feeders which they frequent in colder weather … in fact, it is fairly certain that the presence of these regularly stocked winter feeders (thank you Bird Protection Quebec) within an area of forest that provides them with excellent breeding “facilities” and shelter is a major reason why these birds have been able to establish themselves here, north of their normal range, in the past five years. Both single male and female birds have been recorded in the past ten days at this site.
There is some interesting data from the eBird records following the photographs … scroll down.
Today, while replenishing the feeders, we heard what is described as the ‘kwirr or churr’ call several times before a male RBWO flew out of the forest to take seed alongside a motley collection of Black-capped Chickadees and White-bellied Nuthatches. It flew back and forth several times to the trees, appearing to be caching seed in cracks of the bark of nearby sugar maples. As this was going on its calls were answered from the forest, but this time the ‘cha’ call which is typically a contact call between mates. You can hear these calls on the Cornell website at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/red-bellied_woodpecker/sounds … so, two birds and probably the male and female seen previously.
Shortly thereafter at a second feeder beside Chalet Pruche a third Red-bellied Woodpecker appeared from the direction of the Sugar Shack and worked up and down a nearby tree, though it did not approach the feeder. We are confident that this was a third bird and not one ot the earlier pair that had followed us.
As these birds cause some excitement, this being, as mentioned, rather north of their normal range it seemed that it might be interesting to delve into the records held at eBird. First of all, here is the bar-graph of reports for all years at this location:
Next are two maps of the area showing all eBird records back to 1986. The first bird shows a wide area from Montreal down to the US border and as can bee seen they are not exactly numerous, usually simply one-off sightings or wandering birds but no evidence of a stable population. Most of these birds will not have survived the winters.
The second map focusses in on the Montreal West Island which includes the Morgan Arboretum. This is encouraging – if you visit this map (click here) you will see a cluster of records going back about five years to the original 2009 birds at the arboretum. Even more interestingly you will see further sightings in the past few years in the suburbs and woodlands nearby. It is believed that the nucleus breeding pair (pairs?) in the arboretum have produced young that have move further afield to establish their own territories. These peripheral observations have almost all been made in residential locations with winter bird feeders, further support being given to the thinking that these woodpeckers can survive the cold up here just so long as they can find enough food to keep them going and garden feeders appear to be the answer to that need.
In the past five years intensive bird surveys have been performed throughout the whole of Quebec for the second edition of the Quebec Breeding Bird Atlas. The following extract from the atlas distribution maps illustrates that the still limited breeding records for these birds (note – no evidence in the first atlas, published >20 years ago). The arboretum is the location indicated in region 9 below.
All very interesting – we, and many others, will be watching these birds in the seasons to come … and you may get bored of their pictures on this site.