Introduction

The Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) is a federally funded grant provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada designed to help manage and create suitable habitat for species at risk nationwide. As part of our ongoing commitment to protecting sensitive species, the Friends of Pinery Park are implementing the HSP here in Pinery. In partnership with Ontario Parks, our HSP is focused on creating habitat for two bird species at risk: the Eastern Whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferus) and the Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus). These species are declining throughout Ontario and are designated provincially as threatened and endangered respectively. Pinery remains one of the last strongholds for these species in the province and the status of the provincial population is dependent on the success of these species within and outside the park.

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The Red-headed Woodpecker (left) and Eastern Whip-poor-will (right) are both species at risk in Ontario. Our HSP project aims to create habitat and encourage the success of these species in Pinery.

Habitat loss is the leading cause of bird population decline globally and species with specialized habitat needs including Eastern Whip-poor-will and Red-headed Woodpecker have been the hardest hit. Available habitat for these species has become limited, due primarily to the loss of open habitats including the oak savanna. Invasive species, the suppression of forest fires, and over-browsing by deer all contribute to the destruction of these unique spaces. Compounded by a lack of available prey and increasing stress due to predation and competition, the future of these species locally is uncertain without additional support. 

Our HSP aims to address these issues through the protection of natural spaces, the creation new habitat, and the removal of invasive species. By actively promoting the success of these species and restoring their required habitat, we may indirectly improve the success of these and many other species that rely on the oak savanna.

Our HSP is working to make space for these species directly through effective habitat stewardship. By clearing away Pinery’s historic pine plantations along with the many invasive species that threaten the oak savanna, we can protect the currently available space for our species of interest and expand their local distributions into previously unoccupied space. 

Additionally, our HSP is dedicated to exploring new strategies and measuring their relative impact on species success. While making habitat for these at-risk species, we also explore how stewardship activities can be improved through scientific research and experimentation. Ultimately, this work may contribute or be summarized into management plans that can be distributed widely to protect birds in a more effective way. 

However, the success of our project is dependent on the support of the community. We ask that you act to protect birds and their habitats when and where possible. See how you can help us by reading through the following sections and considering our suggested actions in the “How to help” page. 

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The oak savanna is a unique habitat that requires intermediate disturbance to persist. When fires are suppressed or invasive species take hold, the natural disturbance is removed, jeopardizing the future of this habitat. The potential loss of habitat may directly impact the species that live there including Red-headed Woodpeckers and Eastern Whip-poor-wills. 

Species Profiles

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

A bird of many names such as “jellycoat”, “flagbird”, and “the flying checkerboard”, the Red-headed Woodpecker is a distinctly colourful inhabitant of the oak savanna. 

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A Red-headed Woodpecker feeding on an insect. This omnivorous woodpecker also feeds on cached nuts such as acorns stored just below the bark. (PC: Terry Crabe)

This species is seen frequently in Pinery, especially on the Heritage and Riverside trails where many dead trees (a.k.a. snags), open canopies, and little to no understory vegetation are present. Red-headed Woodpeckers rely on these snags as both a source of food and nest cavities to raise their young. Highly omnivorous among woodpeckers, Red-headeds have a modified bristled tongue which they use to feed primarily on flying insects, but can eat almost anything including seeds, nuts, and fruit. They are roughly the size of a Blue Jay with white body plumage and wing patches, black on their backs, wings, and tail, and topped by their characteristic crimson red head.

pastedGraphic_3.png  A Red-headed Woodpecker climbs a tree. This jay sized bird is adorned in a very distinctive plumage. (PC: Terry Crabe)

Once common throughout the Carolinian forest, the Ontario Red-headed Woodpecker population is now experiencing a consistent annual decline of 3-4%. This population was designated “Endangered” in 2021, meaning that the provincial population is at a very high risk of extinction in the near future. 

Eastern Whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferus)