If Del Webb were a bird, the corporation would surely be a woodpecker, also known in Spanish as parajo carpinteros, or carpenter birds. Community development is one of the side effects of woodpecker nest-building skills, as holes excavated by these industrious birds become homes for many other species. Woodpeckers build new nest holes every year, which ensures an ample and continuously replenished supply of housing for other cavity nesters, including kestrels, swallows, elf owls, flycatchers and starlings. Even bats, mice and lizards take advantage of abandoned holes in trees or saguaros in the desert.
Nest building begins mid-winter, especially for carpinteros that prefer saguaros. Several months are necessary for the inside of the nest cavity to cure or scab over before a mating pair will lay eggs inside. A cavity may have numerous ‘homeowners’ over the long life of the cactus. When the saguaro eventually dies, the hard-skinned cavity is one of the last parts to decay, leaving behind a gourd-like container called a saguaro ‘boot.’
Each of the four woodpeckers commonly seen around Phoenix suburbs are easily distinguished by size alone, ranging from the small (7.5”) black and white striped Ladder-backed Woodpecker to the extra-large (12.5”) orange-shafted Northern Flicker. In between are the medium sized (9.5”) Gila Woodpecker and the large (11”) yellow-shafted Gilded Flicker. Of these, the Gila Woodpecker is by far the most common, with hundreds being logged during area Christmas bird counts each year, relative to dozens of the other species. Local photographer Rick Halliburton caught this photo of a Gila foraging cranberries from his homemade suet.
Since May 2005, I have written a natural history column for a neighborhood newsletter published by Jennifer Moore called "Our Big Backyard: Natural History of the Deem Hills," and since 2010, "A Suburban Naturalist."All of these columns are reproduced here. Deem Hills is a City of Phoenix Desert Preserve located just north of Happy Valley Road in north central Phoenix, and just west of I-17. The Preserve and adjacent hills comprise over 900 acres of open space with several miles of hiking trails. For more perspectives from the Deem Hills and suburban Phoenix, also check out my companion blog, Kat Tracks.
As a naturalist with a special interest in botany and plant ecology, some of my greatest passions are to explore, photograph and write about native plants. If I can spark an awareness or interest in natural history in others along the way, that is my greatest reward.