- Written by Clyde McMillan-Gamber Clyde McMillan-Gamber
Tall, picturesque loblolly pine trees dominate Southern lowlands from Louisiana along the Gulf Coast to northern Florida and up the Atlantic Coast to the Delmarva Peninsula, located between the Chesapeake and Delaware bays.
Forests of this Southern, long-needled pine provide shelter, nesting sites, and food for a variety of Southern wildlife, most notably summering chuck-will’s-widow and permanent-resident brown-headed nuthatches and red-cockaded woodpeckers.
These species of Southern birds are adapted to, and favor, living and nesting among loblolly pine woods with a minimum of undergrowth. There these birds ingest insects and other kinds of invertebrates.
Both genders of dove-sized chuck-will’s-widows are mostly brown with darker markings, which camouflage them on needled forest floors where they roost by day and hatch their young. A person walking in the woods would almost step on a chuck before it fluttered up and away, startling the person.
Each dusk in spring, and on and off through each spring night, male chucks repeatedly call out their names as part of their courting of female chucks. It’s always a thrill and enjoyable to hear their seemingly unending chants in the depths of piney woods in the dark of night.
Each female chuck doesn’t build a cradle but instead lays her two white eggs directly on the needled woodland floor. Those eggs are not visible when she is brooding them.
Chucks fly through the woods at night to catch moths and other kinds of larger, flying insects, which they consume. These birds have large, dark eyes so they can spot their prey in the near-dark of night. And they have huge mouths to engulf their airborne victims.
A bit smaller than sparrows, brown-headed nuthatches have gray upper-body feathering and brown heads that camouflage them in the pine woods they live in exclusively. They eat invertebrates they pull out from under loose bark on trees and among twigs and needles.
They raise young in abandoned woodpecker holes and other tree cavities in pine forests. And because they are so well adapted to living on trees, all species of nuthatches are the only North American birds that can walk down tree trunks head first.
A little larger than sparrows, black-and-white-feathered red-cockaded woodpeckers raise young only in maturing pines that are infected with red-heart disease, which is a fungus. The decaying wood, caused by that fungus, is easier for the woodpeckers to chip into to capture invertebrates and to create nesting chambers.
The hollows they make exude sticky sap that becomes white and seems instrumental in discouraging predators, like black snakes, and cavity competitors, such as tufted titmice, from getting into red-cockaded nurseries.
Because of limited nesting sites, this kind of Southern woodpecker forms little nesting colonies in maturing pine woods. Red-cockaded woodpeckers are already rare because of their severely limited nesting habits. Seemingly, if mature pines with red-heart disease were to be nonexistent, this type of woodpecker may go extinct. Being restricted in habitat could lead to extinction. Having many choices of habitat leads to success.
Chuck-will’s-widow, brown-headed nuthatches, and red-cockaded woodpeckers are interesting Southern birds that live and nest in Southern pine woods, especially in loblolly pines.
Every habitat has its unique wildlife species that are well adapted to it. We can enjoy wildlife in habitats close to home or travel around the Earth to experience wild creatures in many other different environments.
Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.