In the Pacific Northwest, providing adequate habitat for pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) has been a key component of federal forest management strategies for over 20 years. Although their nesting and roosting ecology has been well studied, information on their foraging ecology is limited. From 1990 to 1995, we studied food habits of pileated woodpeckers in coastal forests (with scat analysis); estimated the relative abundance of their primary prey, carpenter ants (Camponotus spp.), associated with logs and cut stumps; and investigated selection of forest structures and site characteristics used by pileated woodpeckers for foraging. Pileated woodpeckers primarily consumed carpenter ants (54% of diet), but round-headed beetle larvae (Coleoptera, Cerambycidae) and dampwood termites (Isoptera, Termopsidae) were important food items during the breeding season (Mar–Jun). Selection of foraging structures was related to wood characteristics and microsite conditions that influence the presence and abundance of arthropod prey. Pileated woodpeckers foraged almost exclusively (95%) on standing structures, selecting tall, large-diameter snags in early to moderate stages of decay. Contrary to previous studies, pileated woodpeckers rarely (2%) foraged on logs. Carpenter ants were scarce at logs in closed-canopy habitats, which suggested that in coastal forests logs are too cool and wet to support abundant populations of carpenter ants. Selection of foraging sites by pileated woodpeckers was influenced by the abundance of potential foraging structures; 0.4-ha plots with recent foraging activity had greater densities of large snags (>51 cm dbh and ≥7.5 m tall) than plots without recent foraging. The efficacy of management strategies designed to provide habitat for pileated woodpeckers would be enhanced if they included specific provisions for foraging habitat and accounted for regional differences in the types of structures that provide suitable conditions for wood-dwelling arthropods.
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Vol. 70 • No. 5