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.

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.

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)

An Eastern Whip-poor-will awaits sunset to begin feeding. Until then, it will remain safely camouflaged on or just above the forest floor.

The aptly named Eastern Whip-poor-will is more often heard than seen. This species is present throughout Pinery during the summer and is most active around Burley Campground and Riverside Trail. Eastern Whip-poor-wills have specific habitat needs, nesting only in sandy forested areas near clearings where they forage for their insect prey at dusk and dawn. Classified with other nightjars as “aerial insectivores”, the Eastern Whip-poor-will feeds only on flying insects.

Although they are nearly the size of an American Robin, seeing a Whip-poor-will is a serious challenge. You may be lucky enough to spot one of these crepuscular birds foraging for insects around dusk. Be sure to keep your eyes focused! Whip-poor-wills may seemingly disappear into the background thanks to their impressive brown, gray, and black camouflaging.

The cryptic nature of this species makes studying their biology difficult. However, researchers agree that the Eastern Whip-poor-will population is in an unstable decline. In 2009, the species was listed as Threatened in Ontario with the provincial population decline estimated at 2.7% annually.

This Eastern Whip-poor-will has become agitated at the presence of an intruder, dropping its wings to feign injury. This is a clear indication that you should leave the bird alone.

Finding a Whip-poor-will can be exciting but appreciate them from a distance. Whip-poor-wills nest on the ground and use their camouflage to conceal themselves from predators. Approaching a singing Whip-poor-will may startle the bird causing them to abandon their nest. If you notice a Whip-poor-will with a seemingly broken wing it is an indication that you are too close to the nest site and it’s time to back away.