|Robert Allen of the Arlington Ecological Services East Texas Sub-office installs an artificial nest cavity for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker Photo credit: USFWS
Our Southwest Region's Tom Buckley and Robert Allen tell us about Allen's work as a Surrogate Woodpecker.
Robert Allen, a wildlife biologist at the East Texas Sub-office in Nacogdoches, climbs ladders and builds artificial nest and roost cavities for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker as part of a recovery effort to enhance nesting habitat in the four national forests in east Texas.
Allen builds these artificial cavities to promote population growth because natural cavity excavation commonly takes several years for the woodpecker to complete.
Unlike other woodpecker species, red-cockaded woodpeckers are highly social and cooperative breeders, living in family clusters comprising the breeding pair and helper males (previous year’s offspring). Most, if not all, red-cockaded woodpeckers in the group have their own cavity, all of which are in live pine clustered in close proximity, hence the term "cluster."
Red-cockaded woodpeckers require open pine woodlands and savannahs with large, old pines for nesting/roosting habitat. Large, old pines are used as cavity trees because the woodpecker excavates completely within the heartwood in order to keep the cavity interior free of the resin the tree produces, which can entrap the birds. Also, old pines are preferred because of the higher incidence of heartwood decay caused by redheart fungus, which makes cavity excavation much easier.