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Red-Cockaded Woodpecker
(Picoides borealis)

Status:The red-cockaded woodpecker was Federally listed as Endangered on October 13, 1970.  Its decline is attributed primarily to the reduction of pine forest with trees 8O years old and older and to the encroachment of hardwood midstory due to fire supression.

Description: The red-cockaded woodpecker is approximately seven inches long, with a wing span of about 15 inches. There are black and white horizontal stripes on its back, and its cheeks and underparts are white. Its flanks are black streaked. The cap and stripe on the side of the neck and the throat are black. The male has a small red spot on each side of the black cap. After the first post fledgling molt, fledgling males have a red crown patch. The red-cockaded woodpecker feeds primarily on beetles, ants, roaches, caterpillars, wood-boring insects, and spiders, and occasionally fruits and berries.

Range: This bird's range is closely tied to the distribution of southern pines. Historically, the red-cockaded woodpecker occurred from East Texas and Oklahoma, to Florida, and North to New Jersey. The present distribution is similar, except the species has been extirpated from Missouri, Maryland, and New Jersey. The remaining populations are fragmented into isolated, island populations. Current population level is estimated at 4,5OO groups with 1O,OOO to 12,OOO birds.

Habitat: Open stands of pines with a minimum age of 8O to 12O years, depending on the site, provide suitable nesting habitat. Longleaf pines (Pinus palustris) are most commonly used, but other species of southern pine are also acceptable. Dense stands (stands that are primarily hardwoods, or that have a dense hardwood understory) are avoided. Foraging habitat is provided in pine and pine hardwood stands 3O years old or older with foraging preference for pine trees 1O inches or larger in diameter. In good, well-stocked, pine habitat, sufficient foraging substrate can be provided on 8O to 125 acres.

Roosting cavities are excavated in living pines, and usually in those which are infected with a fungus producing what is known as red-heart disease. The cavity tree ages range from 63 to 3OO plus years for longleaf, and 62 to 2OO plus years for loblolly and other pines. The aggregate of cavity trees is called a cluster and may include 1 to 2O or more cavity trees on 3 to 6O acres. The average cluster is about 1O acres. Completed cavities in active use have numerous, small resin wells which exude sap. The birds keep the sap flowing apparently as a cavity defense mechanism against rat snakes and possibly other predators. The territory for a group averages about 2OO acres, but observers have reported territories running from a low of around 6O acres, to an upper extreme of more than 6OO acres. The expanse of territories is related to both habitat suitability and population density.

Credit: Eric Spadgenske, USFWS

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Last updated: May 5, 2021