Originally published January 27, 2013. See below for ongoing updates…
A young Pileated Woodpecker moved onto Foster Island this week, impressing passersby with his buzzsaw beak pecking away at a dead tree. Union Bay Watch has details on the woodpecker’s new housing project, complete with relative dimensions and the time it took to build. Hint? Not much.
Congrats to UBW for joining the Seattle Times Community (Nature) News Partnership!
**UPDATE** February 5, 9am:
Union Bay Watch reports young Elvis has pecked so many holes in a large tree branch in the Arboretum that it is now in danger of collapse. The branch apparently was first weakened by critters, and then by Elvis’
pecker beak, as he drills after the little critters — for him a tasty snack. Arboretum authorities have been notified, but in the meantime, keep an eye out for this tree branch overhanging the trail to Foster Island.
**UPDATE** February 7th, 10:15am:
UBW has posted a response from an arborist at UW Botanical Gardens regarding the precarious branch, with plans for a “natural branch fracture” prune just above the woodpeckers critter buffet:
Yes, we are well aware of the situation and have been monitoring for the past week.
Several factors go into a risk assessment regarding trees, wildlife and people. The health and vigor of the tree are taken into account. The potential for damage and the likelihood of that tree or branch failing are also taken into consideration. Lastly, the value of urban wildlife plays a large role in the management of the WPA. Mitigation options including pruning, cabling, or tree removal…or remove the target (trail and people).
In this case, the tree (Chinese empress tree) has been in decline for many years. The branch is probably more likely to fail due to the woodpecker, but I would still consider the risk to be moderate. In the past, closing and re-routing trails has limited effectiveness. Removing the entire branch removes the wildlife habitat (bad) and creates a large wound on the main trunk of the tree (also bad).
I prefer a pruning solution that retains the habitat, while minimizing risk to visitors. This type of pruning would attempt to mimic a natural branch fracture slightly above the woodpeckers feeding site. Pruning in this manner has been controversial as it does not represent a “correct” pruning cut in the traditional sense. However, I think it may be the best course of action in this incident.
There ya go. Danger averted. Meanwhile, commenters wonder who is at fault here — the woodpecker? the critters? the arborist? Or should we just sue the pants off Mother Nature herself?