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A woodpecker perched on a tree with a bug in its mouth
Information icon A red-cockaded woodpecker has dinner outside its nesting cavity. Photo by USFWS.

Virtual informational meeting and public hearing on proposed downlisting of red-cockaded woodpecker

What action is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service taking?

The Service is announcing a public hearing on the proposed downlisting of the red-cockaded woodpecker from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The virtual public hearing will be held via Zoom and teleconference on Tuesday, December 1, 2020 from 6-9 p.m. Eastern Time.

Why is the Service taking this action?

On Oct. 8, 2020, the Service published a rule proposing to downlist the red-cockaded woodpecker from endangered to threatened under the ESA. This action involved a 60-day public comment period, ending Dec. 7, 2020. The Service received a request from the Center for Biological Diversity to hold a public hearing on the proposed rule.

What is the red-cockaded woodpecker?

The red-cockaded woodpecker is a territorial, non-migratory bird species of the southeastern and southern United States. It grows to about eight to nine inches long, about the size of the common cardinal, and has a wingspan of about 15 inches. The red-cockaded woodpecker’s most distinguishing feature is a black cap and nape that encircle large white cheek patches. The male has a small red streak on each side of its black cap, visible only when the male is excited, called a cockade, hence its name. The common name came into use during the early 1800s when ‘cockade’ referred to a ribbon or other ornament worn on a hat. Females lack the red cockade.

Where is the red-cockaded woodpecker found?

Red-cockaded woodpeckers occupy a patchy distribution from southern Virginia south to Florida and west to Texas across 11 states. The bird is no longer found in Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey or Tennessee.

When was the red-cockaded woodpecker listed as endangered under the ESA?

The red-cockaded woodpecker was first listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969, the precursor to the ESA. Protections were subsequently carried over with the passage of the ESA in 1973.

What actions have the Service and partners taken to help recover this species?

The Service enforces the ESA to ensure legal protections are maintained, brings conservation partners to the table, facilitates conservation programs under the ESA and manages National Wildlife Refuge System lands for woodpeckers in key areas. The Service works with partners to create funding opportunities, monitors populations, sets recovery goals and raises awareness of the species status and ongoing efforts to protect it. The Service also consults with federal agencies where their actions may harm woodpeckers or impact their habitat. Through these consultations, the Service works to reduce the potential harm and mitigate for any that cannot be prevented.

In addition, the Service works to ensure consistent application of recovery and conservation programs among federal, state, and private lands in the Southeast. The Service promotes conservation, restoration, and ecologically sound management of the longleaf pine ecosystem, the ecosystem upon which red-cockaded woodpecker recovery depends, via implementation of the red-cockaded woodpecker recovery plan.

On private lands, thousands of these woodpeckers benefit from cooperative agreements, Safe Harbor Agreements, Habitat Conservation Plans, and through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. These agreements are popular with forest landowners and represent a win-win for wildlife and landowners.

The red-cockaded woodpecker has been supported by a combination of conservation approaches, including artificial cavity management, habitat management to support suitable nesting and foraging habitat to include silviculture practices and prescribed burning, as well as translocations to augment populations.

If the woodpecker is downlisted, will it still be protected?

Yes. The woodpecker will continue to receive protections under the ESA. These are identified in the Service’s proposed 4(d) rule. In addition, the requirement for federal agencies to consult with the Service where their actions may harm the woodpecker or its habitat will continue unchanged.

Much of the red-cockaded woodpecker’s currently occupied habitat is now, and will continue to be, protected under various management plans. The management commitments made by many conservation partners for the foreseeable future (25-30 years from the present) will ensure that red-cockaded woodpecker populations grow or are maintained. The exceptions to take of woodpeckers proposed in the 4(d) rule only apply if actions are in compliance with approved management plans or are actions expected to result in minor effects, such as maintenance of existing infrastructure within active cavity clusters.

Our partners continue to work on recovering the red-cockaded woodpecker, including the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army, Air Force and Marines, and private landowners. State wildlife agency partners include the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; Arkansas Game and Fish Commission; Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Florida Forest Service; Georgia Department of Natural Resources; Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks; Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation; South Carolina Department of Natural Resources; South Florida Water Management District; St. Johns River Water Management District; Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; and Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Of the 124 current red-cockaded woodpecker demographic populations, conservation partners have committed to continuing management into the foreseeable future for 76 populations. The areas on which the management commitments will be implemented are well-distributed across the range of the species, including populations in all 13 of the ecoregions. Redundancy of red-cockaded woodpecker populations will also be maintained.

Additionally, other existing laws and regulations have provisions authorizing respective agencies to continue managing for the red-cockaded woodpecker. These laws and regulations include the National Forest Management Act for national forests, Sikes Act for Department of Defense installations, National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

What are the next steps in the proposed downlisting of the red-cockaded woodpecker?

After reviewing and carefully considering all public comments, the Service will publish a final rule.

How can the public participate in this process?

The Service will hold the virtual public informational meeting and public hearing on December 1, 2020 via the Zoom online video platform and via teleconference so that participants can attend remotely. For security purposes, registration is required in order to listen and view the meeting and hearing via Zoom, listen to the meeting and hearing by telephone, or provide oral public comments at the public hearing by Zoom or telephone. For information on how to register, or if you encounter problems joining Zoom the day of the meeting, visit the following website for detailed information:

Once successfully registered, registrants will receive the Zoom link and the telephone number for the virtual public informational meeting and public hearing. Interested members of the public not familiar with the Zoom platform should view the Zoom video tutorials at the link below, prior to the virtual public informational meeting and public hearing.

The public hearing will provide interested parties an opportunity to present formal, oral comments regarding the proposed rule. While the public informational meeting will be an opportunity for dialogue with the Service, the public hearing is not; it is a forum for accepting formal verbal testimony. In the event there is a large attendance, the time allotted for oral statements may be limited. Therefore, anyone wishing to make an oral statement at the public hearing for the record is encouraged to provide a prepared written copy of their statement to us through the Federal eRulemaking Portal, or U.S. mail. There are no limits on the length of written comments submitted to us.

Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting documentation used in preparing this proposed rule, are available for public inspection on at Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2019–0018.

You may submit written comments by one of the following methods:

  1. Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: In the Search box, enter FWS–R4–ES–2019–0018, which is the docket number for the proposed rule. Then, click on the Search button. On the resulting page, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, check the Proposed Rule box to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!” Please ensure you have found the correct document before submitting your comments. If your comments will fit in the provided comment box, please use this feature of, as it is most compatible with our comment review procedures. If you attach your comments as a separate document, our preferred file format is Microsoft Word. If you attach multiple comments (such as form letters), our preferred format is a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel.
  2. By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2019–0018, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: PRB/3W, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

We request that you send comments only by the methods described above. We will post all comments on

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