Loss of habitat is the primary threat to both Eastern Whip-poor-wills and Red-headed Woodpeckers. Land development for housing and industry permanently reduces the area of remaining suitable oak savanna. Ultimately, this loss of habitat limits available space needed for successful nesting and effective foraging. Conversion to agriculture is particularly impactful as formerly productive land is rendered unsuitable for future nesting while remaining foraging habitat may be severely impacted by the application of broad-spectrum insecticides. As both of our species of interest feed primarily on insects during the breeding season, a further reduction in available insect prey is sure to contribute to an already dire food shortage.
For Red-headed Woodpeckers, the lack of nesting habitat is the primary limiting factor for population growth as fire suppression and non-sustainable timber harvest reduces the number of snags (standing dead trees) available for nesting sites. Where snags are available, they may be removed to limit the risk of damaging human dwellings.
Tree diseases such as oak wilt and beech bark disease are a double-edged sword: while these diseases may provide nesting habitat in the short term, alternative sources of food such as nuts and seeds may ultimately become unavailable. Red-headed Woodpeckers that may overwinter in our area will be forced to leave without a reliable supply of non-insect food.
Other cavity dwelling species including European Starlings and Red-bellied Woodpeckers may also force Red-headed woodpeckers out of remaining cavity space. Reducing competition for space requires the creation of new cavities which would greatly benefit Red-headed Woodpeckers in the park.
A lack of suitable nesting habitat appears to impact Eastern Whip-poor-will as well. Whip-poor-wills nest on the ground where they are at greater risk of predation by feral cats. Cats pose a substantial threat to both the young and adults. As Whip-poor-wills in Ontario nest once a year laying only 1-2 eggs, the disruption of nest sites by predators or even well intentioned humans could be devastating.
The decline of these species may signal future trouble for other species that are impacted by forest closure and are also dependent on open habitats including the oak savanna. We need to act in ways that provide adequate nesting and foraging spaces for these species or risk losing them forever.