Throughout western North America, Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis) nests have been previously described primarily in trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) with decay-softened wood. During 1974–1992, we located Red-naped Sapsucker nest trees (n = 125) in northwestern Montana old-growth coniferous forest that included widely scattered paper birch (Betula papyrifera). Sapsucker nests were in nine tree species (seven conifers). Most (68%) nest trees were live and 75% had broken tops. Western larch (Larix occidentalis) and birch were greatly over utilized compared to their availability. Larch nest trees (n = 84) were large [mean DBH = 69 ± 20.95 (SD) cm]. Mean DBH of birch nest trees (n = 30) was 37 ± 8.42 cm. All Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) nests (n = 36) and 12 of 23 Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) nests were in old sapsucker excavated nest holes. Wood of larch and birch is inherently harder than that of aspen (specific gravity = 0.48, 0.48, and 0.35 respectively), posing a potential obstacle for relatively weak excavators such as sapsuckers. However, the entire inner wood column of birch is susceptible to decay fungi and the durable bark is thin. In larch sapsuckers mitigated the difficulty by selecting trees with extensive heartwood decay (old larch) and by excavating in the upper bole (mean cavity height = 21.5 m), where the bark is thinner. External evidence of heartwood decay was present in 87% of larch and 86% of birch. Decay incidence increases with age in western larch forests, amplifying their value as habitat for sapsuckers and many other species. Perpetuation of old-growth western larch is an important component in the conservation of biological diversity. Received 8 March 1999, accepted 24 August 1999.
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