Nest selection by red-headed woodpeckers across three spatial scales in an urban environment

Elsa C. Anderson*, Jalene M. LaMontagne

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Forest habitat is important for a variety of woodpecker species, and is under pressure from urbanization. Red-headed Woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus; RHWO) were once abundant across Eastern North America, and their populations have been declining since the 1960s. Their distribution encompasses urban centers, and since urban habitats differ from natural forest areas, our goal was to understand RHWO nest-site selection in an urban context. We addressed two main questions 1) what are the characteristics of RHWO nest selection across multiple spatial scales and 2) how do RHWO nest tree characteristics in city parks compare to those in forest preserves? This work was done in Cook County, IL, which includes Chicago, the third-largest city in the USA by population. We examined 34 RHWO nest trees used between 2010 and 2013, their surrounding habitat, and the landscape within a 1 km radius. Used trees and habitats were compared to paired unused trees and habitats, and landscape-scale characteristics were compared to random locations. Advanced decay of the nest tree, low canopy cover and increased presence of fungus on trees in the surrounding habitat were the best predictors of RHWO nesting in the area. Nests were most commonly found in forested areas outside of dense urban areas. However, we did not detect significant differences in the characteristics of the nest trees located in forest preserves and city parks. Our findings are consistent with nest selection studies in rural and natural areas, suggesting that forest habitats in metropolitan landscapes can support RHWO nesting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)297-314
Number of pages18
JournalUrban Ecosystems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Chicago
  • Forest preserves
  • Nest selection
  • Red-headed woodpecker
  • Urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Urban Studies


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