Bird of the Week, April 13, 2012
Red-cockaded Woodpecker



The small, mainly black and white Red-cockaded Woodpecker is associated with mature southern pine forests. The male has a small red mark (cockade) on the side of its nape. This species, one of the few endemic to the continental United States, was originally found throughout the southeast, but is now limited to isolated populations, the largest in South Carolina and Florida.


This species requires open pine forests with large, old trees for nesting, a habitat normally maintained by periodic natural burns. Decades of fire suppression and removal of large trees by European settlers destroyed much suitable habitat and brought populations of Red-cockaded Woodpecker dangerously close to extinction.  The species was listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1970.


Unlike most woodpeckers, which nest in dead wood, this woodpecker excavates its nest cavity only in living pines that are at least 70 years old and affected with red heart disease. This fungus softens the wood and allows the bird to dig out a cavity. The live pine then "bleeds" pitch around the nest hole, which helps keep tree-climbing snakes away from the nest.


The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a cooperative breeder, living in small family groups composed of one breeding pair and several helpers that assist in raising young. The entire family often forages as a group, moving together from tree to tree.


On public lands, managers now set controlled fires to mimic the natural burns which maintain suitable habitat for this woodpecker.  Maintaining older trees in the landscape, along with building artificial nest cavities and translocation programs, have also helped boost populations and establish new colonies. These conservation measures have helped stabilize and increase populations.




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Photo: Martjan Lammertink; Range Map, NatureServe