Cavity-nesting birds that have been identified at
Pleasant Valley Conservancy include the following:
In addition, there are numerous other bird species associated
with forests or savannas that are listed in the breeding
bird surveys that have been over the past 10 years.
of the Oak Savanna.
Red-headed woodpecker. We have emphasized that
the oak savanna habitat is one of the rarest vegetation
communities. Because it is now so rare, bird species
that once lived in oak savannas, such as the red-headed
woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) have
either disappeared or have adapted to other habitats.
Fortunately, at Pleasant Valley Conservancy the red-headed
woodpecker appears to have made a nice recovery since
we began restoring oak savanna. We started to see resident
pairs of these attractive birds after the west part
of our bur oak savanna was cleared and now they are
residents. In 2003 we saw immature birds for the first
time, confirming that the are nesting here. They are
also usually found in our Christmas bird count for the
Madison Audubon Society.
In July 2004, a team led by Richard
King, a specialist on red-headed woodpeckers from the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, made a survey at Pleasant
Valley Conservancy. His group found numerous individuals
and located and marked two trees with confirmed nests.
Both trees were dead birches (Betula papyrifera).
King and co-author William Mueller have published an
article on the "redheads" in the August 2005
issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources. This article has
some nice things to say about Pleasant Valley Conservancy.
Click here for a pdf version.
Orchard oriole. Although rare in the Midwest, the orchard oriole (Icterus spurious)is fairly common at Pleasant Valley Conservancy and is known to breed here. The breeding habitat of this species is semi-open areas with deciduous trees, conditions that are common here. This species is categorized as Special Concern by the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology.
A typical flycatcher, it weaves a nest out of grass, catkins, bits of yarn, and feather. The nest is attached to twigs or branches.
Look for them or hear them in open savanna areas.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
turkey. The wild turkey (Meleagris
gallopavo), a native
species of the New World, is the largest game bird in
North America. It has made a remarkable recovery in
southern Wisconsin since it was first reintroduced in
1976. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural
Resources, one important reason for the turkey success
has been intensive habitat improvement, supported to
a great extent by private landowners. Although turkeys
are adaptable animals, they prefer oak forests, especially
those that are interspersed with openings. Thus, the
oak savanna habitat is ideal.
need good roosting and nesting habitat and dependable
food sources. Preferred roosting habitat is large trees
with horizontal limbs, such as open-grown (savanna)
oaks. For nesting, turkeys need moderately dense understory
vegetation that helps conceal the nest but at the same
time allows the hen to survey her surroundings.
Since we began restoration at Pleasant
Valley Conservancy, we have observed turkey nests every
have nested on the restored south slope prairie, as
well as on the restored savanna. One year we observed
four separate nests, all being tended at the same time.
Females with broods of young are seen almost every year.
Ruffed Grouse The
ruffed grouse (Bonasa
umbellus) is another
bird that prefers open woods. According to the Ruffed
Grouse Society, they thrive best in forests that are
kept open by frequent clearing or fire. We hear grouse
drumming occasionally and nests have been sighted. One
year there was a ruffed grouse nest within less than
100 feet of a turkey nest, both on the White Oak Savanna
Sandhill Crane. The sandhill crane
is a conspicuous summer resident of the wetlands at
Pleasant Valley Conservancy. Every year for at least
the past twenty years, sandhills
have nested on our marsh. Most years they are successful
in raising a one or two chicks.
Our nesting sandhills
do not confine themselves
just to our marsh. They move up and down Pleasant Valley
Creek as well as East Blue Mounds Creek. While pulling
weeds on the south slope, we often stop to enjoy their
characteristic call as they fly up or down the valley.
The 2005 photo below was taken by Kathie Brock at the
marsh edge next to our newly planted wet-mesic "Crane
The kestrel (Falco sparverius) is
a small insect-eating hawk that lives in open country
and woods edges. The American kestrel is a colorful
bird, as can be verified by looking at its image on
the one cent US postal stamp (see photo below).
According to the Atlas of the Breeding
Birds of Wisconsin (Wisconsin Society for Ornithology,
2006), kestrels are usually associated with savannas
and grasslands, but can be found in almost any open
habitat. Pleasant Valley Conservancy is thus an ideal
area, since our vegetation grades from savanna through
dry open prairie into wet prairie and marsh. Our nest
boxes are positioned at the edge of the wet prairie.
Several years ago we installed two kestrel
nest boxes and were pleased to have a nesting pair.
In spring 2007 we had kestrels using both our nest boxes.
See the photo below for a design for a kestrel box installation,
courtesy of Mark Martin of Madison Aububon Society.
Starlings frequently evict kestrels from their nesting
cavities, but their predations can be reduced by siting
nest boxes high in the open, orienting to maximize light
entering the cavity. Thus, our boxes on high poles are
ideal. The pole is constructed in two parts with a bolt
holding them together. By loosening the bolt, the top
part pivots down so that the box can be cleaned. We
place fresh wood shavings in the box in the spring.
We have a good view of the kestrel
box from the front porch near our field station. Folks
enjoy watching the kestrels behave while they are eating
The day after the above
photos were taken, the baby kestrels fledged (see photo
below). A few moments after the photo below was taken
the baby disappeared into the tall weeds. Hopefully,
he survived his first outing and is on the way to becoming
a contributing member of kestrel society!