Red-Cockaded Woodpecker


photo referenced from Karen Hogan and Teresa Noel

About Them: Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are residents of the south east. They live in old grown pines, specifically Longleaf historically, but they have managed to shift to loblolly, slash, shortleaf, Virginia, pond, and pitch. They need the tree to be alive, spaced distantly from other trees within an open canopy forest, and grand enough to be able to create a cavity nest within. These cavities take 1 to 6 years to build and are managed by a group of birds. The Red-cockaded Woodpecker group is made up of a monogamous pair along with male young from previous year’s breeding. The group members help to keep up the tree cavities, usually using 6 or more trees at a time. They usually poke around their nest hole to cause sap to pour down the tree as a deterrent for tree climbing snakes. 

Their plight: When Europeans were colonizing the east coast they clear cut the longleaf pine forests beginning the devastation of the native habitat for these birds. This cutting has continued, but has begun to implement better forestry practices to work at ensuring habitat is still left for native species; however, the longleaf pine are very slow growers and take 60-100 years to be applicable homes for these woodpeckers. The longleaf pine habitats are not yet at full proper management and are also often replanted with other pine species or hardwoods because they give a better return for people. The woodpecker also requires the open canopy forest with a very limited understory, this is only achieved with burns that occur every year to 5 years. Fire is generally suppressed. Finally because the cavity creation is such an undertaking the birds do not favor transferring to new territory.

What we should consider: Protections for this species are actually quite strong. Strong enough to frustrate locals into disliking the bird potentially. These birds fall into the same category as the Dusky Gopher frog, looking for those lacking understory open spaced longleaf pine forests. Historically the south east used to have 24 to 37 million hectares of this forest coverage, that is now down to 1.2 million of fragmented forest. While is it great there is something left that is a far cry from the uninterrupted forests that were left wild. Although, going back isn’t really possible. The reality is we have developed and claimed this land, the only way forward is to decide we want to make the land applicable for our needs and the needs of wild species.

What is being done: Better forestry practices are being implemented letting trees grow for longer. Many partnerships are in place between, federal, state, and local land owners to help cultivate proper habitat for these birds. In successful bird colonies females are captured to be released into groups that do not have a female or to establish a new colony.

How to help: If you are a private land owner consider making your yard/land or part of your land a safe native habitat for local wildlife, ‘birds gotta eat’ they truly struggle to find enough food with nonnative plants being the majority of landscaping. Notice as you move around where you live, where do you see birds or wildlife. If you see less birds are most of the plants nonnatives? If you see more birds are there more native plants? Continue bringing awareness. Call into state senators when legislation is being passed that could affect the continued support of policy that protects wildlife, land, and waterways. Support locally.

Support can be:

  • donating to science groups
  • helping to ensure funding to the organizations that creating breeding programs
  • being a citizen scientist through
    • land restoration project
    • trash clean ups
    • species counts
    • bio blitzes
  • getting people you know excited about how incredible our planet’s biodiversity is.

Joining your local Audubon Society or other local conservation group is a great first step into finding activities and ways to become a citizen scientist and environmental advocate.

Further Reading, my sources:

[This is a blog of my opinions. I speak for myself. I am a one person team and if I have misinterpreted a fact or made an error please feel free to get in touch to correct me. I will make edits and updates to post. I would appreciate corrections to be polite. I will not engage in hate.]

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