Never an empty nest
Unlike many other woodpecker species, red-headed woodpeckers have an extended breeding season from May into September. Despite the late season snowfall on April 14th, birds at Cedar Creek got an early start and many were incubating shortly thereafter. Citizen science volunteers helped us identify nearly 50 active nests this spring, most of which we were able to monitor almost daily. Clutch sizes generally ranged from three to as many as seven eggs this year, although we rarely saw more than three nestlings hatch and survive to fledge. A total of 26 out of 38 of the nests we have been monitoring fledged at least one juvenile after their first nesting attempt and 12 of these 38 nests failed.
Interestingly, some red-headed woodpeckers will renest following a failed nesting attempt and some will attempt a second clutch shortly after the first brood fledges. We were excited to see this in action this year—we think because so many birds got an early start they were ready for a second nesting attempt in late June and early July, with plenty of time to incubate and rear their second broods.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that the parents at one of the earliest nests to fledge laid a second clutch within about a week of their three nestling's departure from the cavity. We had marked two of these fledglings with radio-transmitters to estimate post-fledging survival (they're still going strong!) and we observed many parent-offspring interactions for weeks after they left the nest—many of them within a short distance of the nest tree. These interactions were often related to food and parents continued to feed their fledglings while also incubating their new clutch. Quite an energetic feat!
What has been particularly exciting is that we have continued to see a pattern of more pairs incubating a second clutch while also feeding fledglings. These parents have had a very busy summer—many mouths to feed, eggs to keep warm, and eventually more mouths to feed. We are currently monitoring 17 second nest attempts and will report their status once the season begins to wind down. At our current rate of finding new nests, we're not sure when that will be—it appears there is never a dull moment for red-headed woodpeckers at Cedar Creek!