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Nest site selection and nest survival of Black-backed Woodpeckers after wildfire

  • Author(s): Stillman, AN
  • Siegel, RB
  • Wilkerson, RL
  • Johnson, M
  • Howell, CA
  • Tingley, MW
  • et al.

Recently burned coniferous forests host wildlife communities that respond to variation in burn severity, post-fire habitat structure, and patch configuration. Habitat selection theory predicts that birds inhabiting these variable post-fire landscapes will select nesting locations that confer an adaptive advantage through increased fitness and reproductive success. Understanding the effect of post-fire habitat on avian nesting ecology can provide valuable information to guide restoration and management after wildfire. The Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus) is strongly associated with recently burned forests in the western United States, where it is used as an indicator species for the effects of post-fire forest management. Between 2011 and 2018, we located and monitored 118 Black-backed Woodpecker nests in burned forests of northern California. We evaluated the influence of habitat and nest characteristics on nest site selection and daily nest survival. Our results demonstrate a pattern of neutral congruence between habitat selection and fitness. Blackbacked Woodpeckers showed strong selection for each of the nest habitat variables that we measured: Woodpeckers selected moderately sized trees in areas of high snag density burned at high severity, but also in areas relatively close to low-severity or unburned edges. However, only nest initiation date affected nest survival, with decreased survival in late-season nests. Our results suggest that management actions aimed at maintaining breeding habitat for Black-backed Woodpeckers should prioritize retention and creation of pyrodiverse landscapes that include dense stands of snags (>5 snags per 100 m2) within ~500 m of forest that burned at low severity or remained unburned.

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