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The Owl and the Woodpecker

Posted by Paul Bannick at Dec 22, 2008 06:05 PM |

What do owls and woodpeckers have to do with one another? This question is posed to me on a daily basis since the publication of my first book, The Owl and The Woodpecker: Encounters with North America's Most Iconic Birds. The answer may surprise you!

The Owl and the Woodpecker

Great gray owls are found throughout the Columbia Highlands of northeastern Washington. Photo © Paul Bannick

What do owls and woodpeckers have to do with one another? This question is posed to me on a daily basis since the publication of my first book, The Owl and The Woodpecker: Encounters with North America’s Most Iconic Birds (Mountaineers 2008). As I hiked, kayaked, and snowshoed through the wilds of North America over the years, I have been struck by how many of our diverse habitats seem to be defined and improved by the 41 specialized representatives of these two fascinating families.

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Join Conservation NW to protect some of the best places for owls and woodpeckers. Mention "owls & woodpeckers" and become a member for just $10!

From coastal old-growth to short-grass prairies, and from ponderosa pine forests to oak woodlands, owls and woodpeckers are beautiful and powerful. Owls are at the top of their food web often makes them indicators attesting to the health of the ecosystems they inhabit. Woodpeckers, while often indicator species as well, are also keystone species, they creating sap-wells and excavations that benefit of many other animals who use these cavities, including the 10 species of owls that use their cavities for nest sites!

bannickbookThese 41 iconic birds provide a way to describe 11 key North American habitats, raise consciousness about the avian diversity present, and offer suggestions for ways we can work to protect ecosystems and the animals dependent upon them.

Conservation Northwest has worked to protect the northern spotted owls because the health of their populations is a weather vane for the state of northwest old-growth forests, but did you know that the health of old-growth ponderosa pine habitat can be assessed through populations of white-headed woodpeckers and flammulated owls? Or that burrowing owls and short-eared owls signal the condition of our shrub-steppe and grasslands?

Is it a surprise that Conservation Northwest’s efforts to prevent the removal of old trees and snags in burned forests protect the rare Black-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers? Many are surprised to learn that pileated woodpeckers are aiding our efforts to recover the Pacific fisher on the Olympic Peninsula by carving cavities in trees that this handsome mustelid may use for its den. These are just a few of the many instances of owls’ and woodpeckers’ roles in helping us see our individual habitat.  Many more examples throughout North America are covered in the book.

My own free time has moved from the field to the auditorium this fall as I have traveled around the West to share images, stories and conservation messages. I have been heartened by the warm response to the book and the presentations from the several hundred people who have come out so far. Please consider joining others who share your conservation values, see some photos of wild birds in the field and maybe even learn more about owls and woodpeckers and how they define the natural systems of North America by attending one of the events on my book tour.

Paul’s book tour schedule and sample images and pages of the book can be seen at  www.paulbannick.com
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