Red-cockaded Woodpecker

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Learn more about the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW) here.

Learn more about RCW recovery here and in the RCW Recovery Plan.


RCWRed-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis)
Status: Endangered
Listed: October 13, 1970

For questions regarding the Red-cockaded Woodpecker in Arkansas, please contact Rebecca Peak at rebecca_peak@fws.gov or 501-513-4475.

Species Facts:
Red-cockaded woodpeckers require open pine woodlands and savannahs with large mature pines (generally 60 to 80 years old). Nest cavities are excavated completely within inactive heartwood, so the cavity interior remains free from resin that can entrap the birds. Their diet consists primarily of insects, but they also eat fruits and seeds. Red-cockaded woodpeckers are rather small (7 inches in length), and are black with white barring and a white underbelly. They have a black crown, nape and moustache. Males have a small red mark on the side of the head, which is what gives the species its name.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers have an interesting group structure called the “cooperative breeding system”. Each colony of red-cockaded woodpeckers has only one breeding pair; the remainder of the colony is usually four to five young males. These males are the offspring of the breeding pair that have remained in the colony to help care for new eggs and chicks. Once fledged, chicks will remain in the colony and continue to be fed for up to six months, after which they usually disperse. Annual mortality for the fledglings is high, between 50% and 70%.

Learn more about the Red-cockaded Woodpecker here.

Habitat Summary:
In Arkansas, woodpeckers use loblolly and shortleaf pine tree as cavity trees year-round. Suitable habitat consists of mature pines with an open canopy, low densities of small pines, little or no hardwood or pine midstory, few or no overstory hardwoods, and abundant native bunchgrass and forb groundcovers. They look for living trees with a very specific fungus called red heart disease and excavate nesting holes in the heartwood of the tree. Cavity excavation typically takes many years, and one colony’s cluster of excavated trees usually covers around 10 acres. At least 27 species of vertebrates have been documented using red-cockaded woodpecker cavities.

Why is it endangered?
Fire suppression which allows encroachment of hardwoods, lack of cavity trees, loss of mature pine trees, and habitat fragmentation are limiting factors and directly affect the number of potential breeding groups. Several silvicultural practices have been detrimental and include short rotations, clearcutting, and conversion to sub-optimal pine species. Similarly, red heart disease tends to attack trees over 70 years old, but currently most pines are cut before reaching that age.

The red-cockaded woodpecker has increased in number across its range in response to recovery and management programs in the last few decades. More than 40% of known red-cockaded woodpeckers are on private lands that are being managed through USFWS-approved management plans. These management and conservation efforts have resulted in an increase from 4,694 active colonies range-wide in 1993 to 6,105 in 2006. You can learn more about RCW recovery here. View the red-cockaded woodpecter Recovery Plan.

Range in Arkansas:

Arkansas Field Office
110 S. Amity Road
Suite 300
Conway, AR 72032

501/513 4470 (v)
501/513 4480 (f)

Last Updated: December 30, 2015

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