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February 2, 2018

Art Lander’s Outdoors: 

Woodpeckers are found throughout Kentucky, and are most abundant wherever semi-open forests or big trees are present.

In winter, several species of woodpeckers often frequent backyard bird feeders, where they can be observed up close and photographed.

Place trays on the ground filled with mixed bird seed that includes black oil sunflower seeds, and hang suet cakes in wire cage feeders, and it’s likely woodpeckers will show up. Woodpeckers are particularly fond of suet, a mixture of fat, seed and fruits.

Six species — the Red-Headed Woodpecker, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker and Pileated Woodpecker — nest in Kentucky.

In the late 1990s the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis), a federally endangered species, had a tenuous foothold in the pine forests of southern Daniel Boone National Forest, but today the species may not be present in the state.

Woodpeckers are members of Family Picidae. They are tree clingers — adapted to climbing and feeding on trees. Most species have specialized feet and toes.

Their long tongues with barbed tips are used to probe crevices in tree bark to find insects and larvae. They have stiff tail feathers that prop them up when they climb.

As imagined, woodpeckers have thick, bony skulls to withstand the pounding of their chisel-like bills on tree bark and rotting wood. Feathers cover their nostrils to protect the nasal cavity from wood chips and dust.

They excavate nest cavities in dead snags of otherwise living trees, or in the limbs or trunks of rotting trees, usually located just inside the forest edge. Most species seem to prefer semi-open terrain, rather than closed-canopy forests.

They use their nesting cavities to store food, and escape the brunt of cold weather, in addition to raising young.

The woodpecker’s plumage is generally not brightly colored, but they often have distinctive markings and patches of red around their heads.

Here’s some information on five species of woodpeckers found in Kentucky, with details from The Kentucky Breeding Bird Atlas, by Brainard Palmer-Ball Jr.


Red-Headed Woodpecker

Red Headed Woodpecker Red Headed Woodpecker • The Red-Headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) is common in Central and Western Kentucky, but somewhat rare throughout the Cumberland Plateau and Cumberland Mountains.

The species is found most often in semi-open to open areas with big trees, hence it abundance in the bottomland forests, swamps and sloughs of Western Kentucky.

In pre-settlement, the Red-Headed Woodpecker was likely present in great numbers in the native prairies and savannas of Central Kentucky.

Acorns and other nuts are a favorite food.

This 10-inch, jay-sized bird is strikingly colored, with a red head. The wings and tail are bluish-black, the breast is white, and there are white patches on their wings.

This year-round resident begins nesting in May.

 

• The Red-Bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) is found throughout Kentucky, but is less abundant in the eastern third of the state.

This robin-sized woodpecker is found in a variety of habitats but seems to favor rural farmland with scattered woodlots, suburban yards, urban parks and riparian corridors.

A year-round resident, the Red-Bellied Woodpecker, readily comes to feeders in the winter.

Nesting begins in mid-April.

Their plumage is black and white (barred) on their backs and wings, with a pale breast. Males have a red crown and nape.

Their preferred food is boring beetles, grasshoppers, ants and other insects, but they also consume nuts and wild fruits.


Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker 1Downy Woodpecker 1• The Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), the smallest woodpecker in the eastern U.S., is sparrow-sized, and the most numerous and widespread woodpecker in Kentucky.

They are found in all of the state’s forest types, yet seem to prefer farmland woodlots, large urban parks, and wooded suburban neighborhoods. Very fond of suet, this approachable little woodpecker is a common visitor to backyard bird feeders.

Plumage is black and white with numerous white spots. Males have a small red patch on the nape of the neck.

The Downy Woodpecker is often confused with the larger Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus), which has a longer bill and unspotted white back.

In the fall, the Downy Woodpecker is often found in the company of nuthatches, creepers and chickadees.

Nesting territories are established by mid-April.


Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker Northern Flicker • The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is a 12-inch woodpecker found in uniform abundance across the state.

Distinctive plumage, a loud wicka-wicka-wicka vocalization, and unique feeding habits make this large woodpecker easily identifiable. Males have a brown back with dark bars, a white breast with black spots, a red patch on the nape, and a black “mustache.”

The Northern Flicker feeds primarily on the ground, eating ants and beetle larvae.

Its preferred habitat is a mix of woodlands and open land, with some large trees nearby.

In winter, transients from more northern breeding areas, pass through Kentucky and may overwinter here, boosting local populations.

One brood is raised a year and nest trees stand alone or are in a cluster of trees


Pileated Woodpecker (Photo by Robert Mislan)

Pileated Woodpecker Pileated Woodpecker • The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is Kentucky’s largest woodpecker.

The 17-inch, crow-sized bird has distinctive plumage too, and a loud, unmistakable vocalization cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk, that rises and falls in pitch. Its plumage is black with white neck stripes, and a prominent red crest. The linings of the wings are white.

This reclusive bird lives in mature forests and is uncommon to fairly common, found statewide, except the Bluegrass Region, where it is considered rare.

One of the best times to get a glimpse of this majestic woodpecker is in the spring, as nesting activity begins in late March. Their large, rectangular entry to the nesting cavity, is distinctive.

Wild turkey hunters in the spring often use a Pileated Woodpecker call as a gobbler locator call. The shrill, high-pitched notes “shock” a tom into gobbling, so the hunter can determine the exact location of the bird, to set up for the hunt.

Woodpeckers are a prime example of Kentucky native wildlife being negatively impacted by exotic, invasive species.

Woodpecker reproduction, and ultimately their abundance, has been severely impacted by the non-native European Starling, a noxious bird that competes for nest sites, often taking over holes in trees made by woodpeckers.

About the author:

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for NKyTribune. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors column.

 

Dec 29th, 2017

ART LANDER’S OUTDOORS: A LOOK BACK AT 20 YEARS SINCE INCEPTION OF KENTUCKY’S ELK RESTORATION PROJECT

The return of elk to the mountains of eastern Kentucky has had an immense social, economic and cultural impact, and is the realization of the vision to create hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities, with economic benefits from tourism to rural communities in the region. (Photo provided)The return of elk to the mountains of eastern Kentucky has had an immense social, economic and cultural impact, and is the realization of the vision to create hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities, with economic benefits from tourism to rural communities in the region. (Photo provided) 

This is the first in an occasional series of articles on elk in Kentucky, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the elk restoration project.

The end-of-the-year holiday celebrations have a special significance this year as it was 20 years ago this December 18th that Kentucky’s elk restoration project began.

The return of elk to the mountains of eastern Kentucky has had an immense social, economic and cultural impact, and is the realization of the vision to create hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities, with economic benefits from tourism to rural communities in the region.

The resounding success of this largest wildlife restoration project ever attempted in the eastern U.S. has garnered national attention and kudos for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), who financed a majority of the project.

Here’s some insight into the beginnings of elk restoration in Kentucky, with some quotes from a taped interview that aired recently on Kentucky Educational Television (KET):

• In Colonial America elk were common east of the Mississippi River.

The eastern elk (Cervus canadensis canadensis), which was native to Kentucky, was one of six subspecies of elk that inhabited the northern and eastern U.S., and southern Canada.

Unregulated hunting and habitat loss wiped out elk in Kentucky by the mid-1800s. Naturalist John James Audubon observed that by 1851 a few elk could still be found in the Allegheny Mountains but that they were virtually gone from the remainder of their range.

The last eastern elk was shot in Pennsylvania on September 1, 1877. The subspecies was declared extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1880.

The elk that were stocked in Kentucky during the six-year restoration project were Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus canadensis nelsoni), a subspecies found in the Rocky Mountains and adjacent ranges of western North America.

• In 1996 wildlife biologists and administrators with KDFWR, and members of the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission, began to discuss, then study the feasibility of re-introducing elk to reclaimed coal mined lands in eastern Kentucky.

On December 18, 1997 a crowd of more than 3,000 persons gathered at CyprusAmax WMA, near Ary, Kentucky, in Perry County, to witness the release of the first seven elk. It was a historic moment in wildlife conservation in Kentucky. (Photo provided)On December 18, 1997 a crowd of more than 3,000 persons gathered at CyprusAmax WMA, near Ary, Kentucky, in Perry County, to witness the release of the first seven elk. It was a historic moment in wildlife conservation in Kentucky. (Photo provided)

Tom Bennett, who was KDFWR commissioner, said that it seemed like “a crazy idea at the time.”

There was many unanswered questions, including: 1) How would the project be financed? 2) Was there enough suitable habitat? and 3) Would the public support the idea?

SEE REST OF STORY HERE

 

December 15, 2017 

Lawrence deer harvest down 63% from previous year mostly caused by disease

With a month of hunting left in the 2017-18 deer season let’s take a look at the harvest, impacted somewhat by weather, and a severe outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) in eastern Kentucky.

The 16-day modern gun season, which ended on November 26, is deer season’s main event, and constitutes the bulk of the harvest.

During the 16-day modern gun season, which ended on November 26, hunters bagged 98,199 deer, seven percent above the 10-year average (Photo provided)During the 16-day modern gun season, which ended on November 26, hunters bagged 98,199 deer, seven percent above the 10-year average (Photo provided)

“Overall the season harvest numbers were pretty good,” said elk and deer program coordinator Gabe Jenkins, of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). “We had the fifth highest harvest on record over the last 19 seasons. The 10-year average modern gun harvest is 92,153, and we were seven percent above that average at 98,199.”

As of December 12, the total number of deer reported taken was 126,575, with a sex ratio in the harvest of 56.4 percent male, to 43.6 female. Archers had bagged 16,399 deer, muzzleloader hunters, 7,555, and firearms hunters 98,860.

Take a long look at the top 10 counties in deer harvest as of December 12: Crittenden, 3,226; Hardin, 3,197; Pendleton, 3,135; Christian, 3,054; Owen, 2,987; Breckinridge, 2,662; Hopkins, 2,648; Graves, 2,539; Grayson, 2,520, and Ohio, 2,491.

The numbers are a bit surprising.

In 38 counties in eastern and south-central Kentucky, the deer harvest declined compared to the five year average during the modern gun season. Hardest hit were the counties in far eastern Kentucky, the epicenter of the EHD outbreak. (Click for larger image)In 38 counties in eastern and south-central Kentucky, the deer harvest declined compared to the five year average during the modern gun season. Hardest hit were the counties in far eastern Kentucky, the epicenter of the EHD outbreak. (Click for larger image)


For decades Owen County led the state in deer harvest. Now’s it’s in the middle of the pack. Last season Pendleton county was the harvest leader, right now it’s third in the top 10 list, with a month of archery hunting to go.

“Deer populations are exploding in the west-central part of the state, and the western coalfield counties,” said Jenkins. “And in a lot of these counties the zone status was increased (to allow longer seasons and more liberal harvest).”

Jenkins said if the current harvest trend continues, by season’s end the total should be somewhere around 135,000.

Last season the total number of deer reported taken by hunters was 139,450.

EHD Outbreak Impacts Deer Harvest in 38 Counties

Jenkins said he expected to see low harvest numbers in the counties affected by the EHD outbreak but there are a lot of unanswered questions. The harvest numbers per se don’t tell the entire story.

“It’s not easy to determine how many people decided to hunt outside their home county because of the EHD outbreak,” said Jenkins. “Or how many hunters passed on a deer that they would normally harvest, because the deer population in their county was down.”

In 38 counties in eastern and southcentral Kentucky, harvest reports declined compared to the five year average in deer harvest during the modern gun season.

As of November 21, the total number of dead or dying deer reported to KDFWR had climbed to 4,625. Reports were received from 91 Kentucky counties. (Click for larger image)As of November 21, the total number of dead or dying deer reported to KDFWR had climbed to 4,625. Reports were received from 91 Kentucky counties. (Click for larger image)


Hardest hit were the counties in far eastern Kentucky, the epicenter of the EHD outbreak. The percentage declines in harvest were: Floyd, 72 percent; Morgan, 69 percent; Wolfe, 68 percent; Lawrence, 63 percent; Johnson, 63 percent; Magoffin, 61 percent; Letcher, 59 percent; Owsley, 58 percent; Breathitt, 57 percent, Pike, 56 percent and Martin, 55 percent.

As of November 21, the total number of dead or dying deer reported to KDFWR had climbed to 4,625. Reports were received from 91 Kentucky counties.

The nine-day late muzzleloader season, which ends Sunday, December 17, will give the deer program another opportunity to further assess the impact of the EHD outbreak on specific counties.

Many of the counties affected by the EHD outbreak are Zone 4 counties, where antlerless deer (does) can’t be taken with firearms until the last three days of the late muzzleloader season, December 15-17.

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Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

 

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