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Birding/Red headed woodpeckers in SD


QUESTION: I live in south east South Dakota and on my parents farm i noticed a population of redheaded woodpeckers in the farms shelter belt. And as i understand it, they are a nearly endangered species?  is that true? The shelter belt is quite old, and about 75% dead.  So there are a decent amount of snags and dead trees.  I am planning on repopulating the shelter belt next spring and was wondering what species of trees i should include. I will be leaving the live trees and the big snags.  but i'd like to remove some of the smaller dead tres under 2 inches in diameter, and also remove some of the dead brush and junk out there that makes it difficult to walk back there. I am planning on doing this in a few stages over the next 2-3 years.  so i wont clear everything, i want to establish some nice trees back there before i start removing some of the older trees and brush that was never maintained.  i plan on leaving open areas, and would like to put some fruit trees back there as well as nuts.  the measurements of the shelter belt are 120 feet by 900 feet.

my list of trees that i'd like to include would be a few white pine (or other evergreens,  fast growing oaks, black walnut, hazelnut, chestnuts hickory, hackberry, fruits like cherry trees, mulberry, strawberries, serviceberry, apple, cranberry, etc, etc..   also would like to put some nice ornamental trees like catalpa.   Do you have any suggestions as what to put back there, and what NOT to put back there?   I am meeting with a landscape company to help me design it this week and would like to have a list of things that would benefit the woodpeckers as well as other songbirds, while hopefully deterring the starlings and sparrows.  (but that isn't likely)  if there is a website the i could look at also, i would appreciate that.  thank you.

ANSWER: You are correct; Red-headed Woodpeckers are considered nearly threatened and endanger of extinction without some conservation measures. You can read more about them at
There are lots of websites on what kinds of trees and shrubs to plant, like

Sounds like you have done a lot of research already and are on the right track. I think the landscaper can help but you might also talk to the local Audubon Society as some of them would be familiar with what is needed. Local knowledge is your best bet here. I think the basic idea is to recreate the native vegetation as much as possible and minimize ornamentals and non-natives. Anything you do for any bird is going to be helpful for most of them. And, as you note, keeping large dead trees will be very helpful. But local knowledge is the key.

Look at this site for North Dakota planting for birds

Sounds like you have great plans. I appreciate your concern for the birds and I wish you the best on this project. Please contact me again if I can be of any further help.

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QUESTION: Thank you for pointing me in the right direction. I am having a hard time finding an audubon society in south east south dakota tho.  Do you have any leads or phone numbers?  Also, if you had a top of the list tree, or shrub, or both... What would it be?  I can't wait to get started on this project!

Google South Dakota Audubon Chapters; I did and a few locations cropped up but I don't know what is near you. I can't give you any particular recommendations for top plantings as I am not a botanist and I don't live in South Dakota, but try this
Just plant some natives to start and the rest of the natives will eventually come in. You don't need to do everything at once. A forest ecosystem takes years to develop. Frankly, if you just left the ground bare, it would eventually grow a native forest. But a head start is nice. Just don't overdo it - be simple and nature will take care of the rest.


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Roger Lederer


Any and all about WILD birds - the science of ornithology. Information about birdwatching, ecology, conservation, migration, behavior, banding, rehabilitation, feeding, songs, binoculars, identification, and careers in ornithology. No questions about pet or caged birds, please.


Have a PhD and over forty years as a professional ornithologist - research, teaching, author, speaker, webmaster of . Have written thirty scientific papers, three bird field guides, a textbook in ecology four other bird books, the latest being "Beaks, Bones, and Bird Songs". Have traveled to 100 countries watching birds and have spoken to hundreds of groups about birds.

PhD in Zoology/Ornithology; Emeritus Professor of Biological Sciences; former Dean of the College of Natural Sciences at California State University, Chico

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