Scientists studying the elusive Whiteheaded Woodpecker

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by GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @gchittimK5

KING5.com

Posted on June 19, 2012 at 10:30 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 19 at 10:56 PM

In Central Washington's Wenas Wilderness, biologist Teresa Lorenz is reaching into the darkness and pulling holes into the daylight.

Lorenz knows holes are critical to the forest.  Squirrels and chipmunks need them. So do birds that control the insects. So many woodland creatures live and die in holes.

Lorenz and her colleagues have discovered that one very timid, rarely seen woodland creature is responsible for creating the vast majority of the holes in this Central Washington wilderness, and if we want to see it, we'll have to keep up Lorenz has no patience for stragglers or slackers.-

"Yeah I could do 30 miles a day easily," she said.

Lorenz is after the elusive Whiteheaded Woodpecker.

"This is where they were yesterday in this drainage," she said.

And she is relentless in her quest. When she senses she is close, she gives the Whitehead a shout out.

Her call is answered. And there it is - the master builder at work. A bird that looks at more at home in the Arctic is making itself a home in the Wenas. But odds are this home will be taken by someone else.

"From what I've seen it seems like Whiteheaded woodpeckers can always get bullied out, the other birds are more aggressive and they seem pretty passive," said Lorenz.

That keeps the Whiteheadeds on a never ending construction project. There are other woodpeckers out there to be sure, but biologists are now convinced the Whiteheaded pounds out most of them and that forest health is only as firm as its holes.

"We know we'd lose the mammals, that mammals that are the seed dispersers for forest regenerations, we know we'd lose the swallows that eat bugs. We know we'd lose the larger predators the raptors and owls,” said Lorenz.

It’s such vital work and the Whiteheaded woodpecker goes about it in relative obscurity.

"Honestly there's not very good information at all on the size of their population and they're really hard to monitor because they're quiet and difficult to detect,” said Lorenz.

That's why the forest service has assigned Lorenz to find out what makes the Whiteheaded woodpecker tick, everything from the sap it eats to where it nests

The woodpeckers are able to peck out smaller holes and build nests down inside the tree. The biologists drill larger holes so they can reach in and eventually get a look at the babies.

This isn't one of those investigations to find out how humans are harming a species. There is no reason to believe the Whiteheaded woodpeckers are threatened in any way.

This is one of those wildlife wonders that keep biologists awake at night and plodding through the forests the next day, trying to look see the big picture, through the smallest holes.

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