Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Black-backed woodpeckers spotted in the Arb after 78 years

<ecent visitor to the Carleton College made Arboretum staff take notice. Not for any particular celebrity status, but that the visitor had been absent for 78 years! Owen McMurtrey ‘12 spotted the long lost visitor recently and rushed back to campus to report his find to the Minnesota Ornithological Union – the organization that tracks bird sightings in the state. Yes, this visitor was an unusual bird, a Black-backed Woodpecker, last seen in the area in 1930. While found in Minnesota, this sighting of the Black-Backed Woodpecker was far beyond normal range, normally limited to the northeastern portion of state, primarily the northern tier of counties.

Black-Backed Woodpeckers feed on the larvae of beetles, primarily in dead and dying conifer trees in the aftermath of wildfires. Occasionally populations of the bird grow in numbers such that they head south, in migrations called “irruptions”. They search for patches of habitat where they can find a food source, places that have been set aside and managed for wildlife habitat, like the Carleton College Arboretum. The Arboretum was established in the 1930’s, just about the time of the last observation of this elusive bird in our area!

McMurtrey is a beginning birdwatcher, having developed an interest in his native Chicago, and bringing his hobby with him to Northfield. Of his recent find he states “It took me a moment to register-and at first I was a little disoriented-but I quickly realized what was out of place: I was seeing a bird that had ventured well south of its natural range. Since then, I have met many birders and received many congratulations. It really makes you feel like part of a larger community.”

Birdwatcher Gene Bauer (also of the Academic Support Center) provided this insight on the recent appearance: “Owen’s sighting of the Black-backed was exciting to me as a birder in a number of ways. I’m excited for Owen the birder – finding the unexpected, the improbable. I’m excited because it adds to our knowledge of the Black-backed in Minnesota. And I’m excited because a decision made years ago to invest in habitat is validated by species that use it now”.

Arboretum Director Nancy Braker notes that “the Carleton Arboretum provides habitat to many species of birds and other wildlife. Recent restoration projects have greatly increased the habitat available to this bird and others. We hope the Black-backed Woodpecker will stick around this winter to be counted in the Christmas bird count on December 20!”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *