On September 18th while birding at Shirley's Bay I observed a female Black-backed Woodpecker flying over the parking lot at Shirley's Bay. At the same time a second female Black-backed Woodpecker was photographed at Britannia Conservation Area/Mud Lake by Marian and François Gouin. The Shirley's Bay individual wasn't seen again but the B.C.A. / M.L. was again present on September 19th in the same area. It spent most of its time feeding up high in White Pines and occasionally was observed at ground level on fallen pines. The Black-backed Woodpecker is an erratic visitor to the Ottawa-Gatineau district mainly during the late fall and winter months. The Black-backed Woodpecker like its cousin the American Three-toed Woodpecker are known for their southward irruptions from their main range in the boreal forest north of the Ottawa-Gatineau district. During the 1970's and early 1980's there were a number of southbound irruptions during the fall and winters including 1971-72, 1972-73, 1974-75, 1975-76,1979-80, and 1982-83. These irruptions coincided with the outbreak of insects associated with Dutch elm disease and woodpeckers were found throughout the city feeding on dead and dying trees. Sometimes both species were on the same elm! My early fall records for Black-backed woodpecker are September 23, 1974, September 24, 1975, September 19, 1978 and my earliest September 5, 1982. Since the 1980's both woodpeckers have had small southbound irruptions but no where near the numbers during the 1970's and 1980's. During the late 1980's and 1990's the Dunrobin Christmas Bird Count area continued to attracted a small number of these birds as localized insect outbreaks killed off trees. The Black-backed Woodpecker is also attracted to burn sites. The most recent large scale fire in our area was during the fall 2012 along Moodie Drive at the Lime Kiln Trail. This resulted in a few of Black-backed Woodpeckers wintering in the area. During the 1990's another burn site attracted a good number of these birds along Wolf Lake Road near Steele Line Road. It's hard to predict if we are at the start of another south bound irruption but early observations are usually a good indicator.
A female Black-backed Woodpecker scales away bark searching for food in a White Pine at Britannia Conservation Area/Mud Lake