Yes, waiter? One beetle-filled burnt tree, please!
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Forest fire + insects = woodpeckers!
For several years following a forest fire, certain insects move into the area and enjoy the buffet of burned wood. Many species of bark beetles and wood borers can be found in the weakened trees. These insects lay their eggs under the bark of a burned tree, so when the larvae hatch they continuously feed on the plant matter until they go into winter dormancy.
These insects can infest healthy trees, but generally will not be able to kill it. When they infest weakened trees, such as after a forest fire and in huge numbers, they can eventually kill the tree completely. This is an important factor in forest ecology because it makes way for new trees and other vegetation. However, due to climate change and rising temperatures, these insects are beginning to emerge after winter dormancy up to a month sooner in certain areas. This means that there are far more insects that are ready to do some damage earlier on, and are able to reproduce sooner (and therefore produce more offspring each year).
Who else might enjoy a post-fire feeding frenzy? Woodpeckers! White-headed woodpeckers are just one example of woodpeckers who flock to the bug infested trees to feed on the beetle larvae. Depending on the size of the burned area, this many sustain the woodpeckers for months or years. During this time the woodpeckers make cavities in the trees and the now open forest becomes a perfect habitat for other wildlife, like Lewis' woodpeckers!
Lewis' woodpeckers are secondary cavity nesters, which means that they will move into previously excavated homes in trees about a year after the fire has passed. Lewis' woodpeckers are a threatened species due to habitat loss and degradation. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey in 2015, there were approximately only 1,000 individual Lewis' woodpeckers remaining in Canada. So while wildfires can be extremely disruptive to humans, they can provided essential services to certain wildlife.
There are ways that YOU can help Lewis' woodpeckers habitat remain in the Okanagan:
Protect known nest sites
Avoid human disturbance at nest sites during breeding season (May to August)
Leave dead standing trees when safe to do so
Retain open ponderosa pine forests and black cottonwood stands
Report sightings of these birds to us
Eliminate pesticide use to maintain insect populations and avoid secondary poisoning
Ensure agricultural netting is kept tight and monitored regularly
Become a Wildlife Habitat Steward!
Interested in becoming a birder? Check out our Beginner Birding Webinar Series!
Photo: Hairy Woodpecker