Pileated woodpecker. (Pixabay image)

Column: Birds contribute to health of Shuswap forests

Shuswap Outdoors/Hank Shelley

With this mild winter and little snow, it’s a wonderful time for that daily – or occasional – walk in the many parks and trails we have in the city and surrounding locations. Canoe walking trails and Coyote Park to name two.

One interesting aspect of hooking up with nature is the bird life you may find – from the water ouzel (dipper) bouncing from rock to rock, picking up insects along a creek, to the ratta-tat of the pileated woodpecker. It’s a large bird, black with red crest and cap. It is of the Picidae family, and is unique with its zygodactyl feet, meaning two toes front, two toes back. It can move up and down a tree quickly, catching bugs.

Related: Column: Where have all the game animals gone?

The bird helps to rid trees of invading and present insects. Its tongue can reach three times the length of its bill, with a barb for searching out and probing cavities for insects.

The chips of cedar and old spruce wood litter the ground when the bird ravages a tree for grubs and insects. It is a keystone species in our forests, affecting several other species, including song birds, small mammals and wood ducks who use the woodpeckers’ large cavities in old trees for nesting. Another two tiny birds play a large part in keeping our forests healthy. Studies show that the chickadee and nuthatch help to increase growth in forest trees, by keeping beetles, caterpillars, ants and aphids from the tree branches.

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The study also showed that having the birds present disrupts the activity of ant and aphid colonies which feed on plant tissue, known as phloem-sap, that carries nutrient through the tree. By removing the insects from pine forests, the birds change the chemical flavour or terpenes, thus reducing attack by beetles, porcupines and squirrels.

Take along a bird book of native birds of B.C. when you’re walking. Many residents already have a love of bird watching in our area, which I believe had 76 species counted in the annual bird count. A casual walk in the woods is not only invigorating but gives a better understanding of how birds play a large part in keeping our trees healthy.


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