North Carolina Sandhills Suboffice
Conserving the Nature of America
Biologist using a treetop peeper to inspect RCW nest

Photo by Lou Ellen Plummer

Red-cockaded Woodpecker Monitoring

The red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) monitoring program consists of two major areas: annual cavity tree inspections and intensive monitoring of active RCW clusters.

Annual cavity tree inspections take place every year from March through July. During this period, all known RCW trees are inspected for activity status and condition of cavities and starts. Newly constructed cavities and starts are documented as well as data on the habitat conditions surrounding the cluster. Any damage to existing trees or dead RCW trees are also noted.

Each breeding season we intensively monitor all clusters on Safe Harbor properties. The red-cockaded woodpeckers in each cluster are color-banded in order to determine the group composition. During the breeding season, each cluster is checked on a weekly cycle for a nest from April through July and once we locate a nest, we record the number of eggs present. Nests are checked regularly until nestlings hatch and when old enough, each nestling is color-banded as well. Each red-cockaded woodpecker is banded with the cluster's unique color combination on one leg and an individual color-band and a numbered U.S. Geological Survery aluminum band on the other leg. Approximately 3 weeks after banding the nestlings, we return to the cluster and conduct an early morning follow of the group in order to determine the number of young that fledged and verify the group composition. During these checks we are able to determine the sex of the young since only juvenile males have a red-crown patch on the top of their head which is visible until their first molt.

7-day old RCW nestlings

Photo by S. Miller/USFWS

By banding the red-cockaded woodpeckers in the Safe Harbor clusters we can track movement and survival of individuals or groups of birds over time. This data helps us determine the status of baseline clusters identified in a Safe Harbor agreement as well as document any new "safe harbor" groups.

Occasionally we have an unbanded bird move in to an existing group because not all of the North Carolina Sandhills population is banded. We capture and band adult red-cockaded woodpeckers in the early morning or late evening when they are leaving or returning to their cavities to roost.


USFWS Customer Service Center - 1-800-344-WILD

Last Updated: January 1, 2018