Endangered woodpecker is baseball’s newest mascot
Take a look at the all-new mascot for the all-new Fayetteville Woodpeckers Minor League Baseball team. Note the fierce gleam in the eye, topped by a scarlet crest. Can you discern the fuzzy outline of pine trees in the background?
Yes. It is our friend, good ol’ Leuconotopicus borealis. But most folks know him as the red-cockaded woodpecker, or RCW.
The tiny flier, listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, is now the official mascot for the Houston Astros’ single-A baseball team that recently landed in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
The city, in the state’s Sandhills region, is ringed by public and private lands where the woodpecker makes its home. That includes Fort Bragg, where officials with the U.S. Army and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) have worked hard to make sure the woodpecker thrives in the base’s longleaf pine forests — so much so that the base hit it’s 2012 recovery target five years ahead of schedule.
Team officials announced the name November 4, capping a “Name the Team” contest that drew more than 1,300 entries. They narrowed the finalists to five: Fatbacks, Fly Traps, Jumpers, Wood Dogs and Woodpeckers.
When those names were put out to a vote, the winged contender gathered the most yea’s. That settled it. The marketers got busy, creating a determined-looking bird grasping a bat with some hefty chunks missing — hammered out, no doubt, by a hard-beaked hardballer.
“We had our fingers crossed for the woodpecker,” said Mark Zarthar, the team’s president. “We thought it was the best fit.”
That’s not just marketing talk, either. The RCW, Zarthar knows, is synonymous with the region — Fort Bragg, especially. The installation, he said, has done a “fantastic job” helping ensure the bird thrives.
“We think the name not only will help the community understand [about the RCW] but also let them know what Fort Bragg has done,” he said.
The Woodpeckers have at least one new fan — Will McDearman, who heads the Service’s RCW recovery efforts. He works in Jackson, Mississippi, but suddenly has Fayetteville in his sights.
“I think that is fantastic,” said McDearman, whose team of choice is the Atlanta Braves. “I think I’m definitely going to have a new favorite team.”
The Woodpeckers may be the only team in Minor League Baseball that has embraced an endangered species as a mascot. More than 250 teams comprise the organization, which provides talent for Major League Baseball. The teams’ names run the gamut, from birds (Akron Rubber Ducks, anyone?) and other winged creatures (Salt Lake Bees), to fish (Carolina Mudcats), to bovine menaces (Durham Bulls), to things that defy description (just what is a Pensacola Blue Wahoo?).
And now, a bird that nests in cavities high off the ground. McDearman can think of no better mascot.
“RCWs are tough and persistent,” he said in an email extolling the bird. Talk about tough: What other birds hammer at living trees to make nests?
And this: “RCWs are defensive and protective” — surely, a key attribute for the Fayetteville team’s infield.
They have other qualities. RCWs, McDearman noted, are family oriented (as is baseball) and “fiery” — they are creatures that thrive in forests that periodically burn. In other words, they can take the heat.
Here’s hoping that the 2019 Fayetteville Woodpeckers can, too.
Mark Davis, Public Affairs Specialist