Birding Without Borders

Day 154: Fire Birds

A recent burn comes alive.

June 3, 2015, Eugene, Oregon — As my dad and I made our way back to western Oregon today (so I can sleep in my own bed one last night this year!), we stopped at the site of a 2014 forest fire called the Little Brown Mountain Burn. This fire burned about 140 acres last summer within a pine-fir forest, and the blaze caused total destruction: A complete stand-replacing fire, leaving nothing but ash on the ground and charred trunks standing like blackened toothpicks.

Wildfires like this are a typical part of the forest cycle in Oregon, and, of course, the trees will eventually grow back. The forest service, however, decided to help speed up reforestation after this particular fire, and a guy with a tractor was busy clearing many of the dead trees and piling them to be burned (ironically, I thought) to make room for replanting. What a lot of work.

A recently burned forest might seem like a moonscape, but two species of woodpeckers in Oregon are adapted to move in after wildfires: Black-backed and Three-toed. These peckerwoods specialize in flaking bark off of dead trees, so a whole stand of blackened trunks is a goldmine for them! The best place to find Black-backed and Three-toed woodpeckers is in a recently burned forest, where they sometimes concentrate in unusual densities.

My dad and I walked quietly for more than an hour, accumulating charcoal marks on our jeans and ash in our shoes, as we listened for the quiet tap-tap-tapping of woodpeckers. We found several Hairy Woodpeckers, a Downy Woodpecker, a Northern Flicker, and a Williamson’s Sapsucker, but just could not come up with a Three-toed (usually rare even in good habitat). The most common species in the burn was the Black-backed Woodpecker, which seemed to be everywhere. It was fun to hear the regular, low-pitched squeaks of Black-backs calling to each other, and the constant dry hammering on tree trunks. Burned forests are definitely not dead forests.

New birds today: 3

Year list: 2728

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