The Red-cockaded Woodpecker

They're Pining for a Home

The Basics

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker or Picoides borealis is a type of woodpecker that has black and white horizontal bars on its back. The Red-cockaded Woodpecker (often referred to as the RCW) also has a black top of the head and back of the neck and while its cheeks are white. The 'Cockaded' Part of the name comes from the fact that males have small red patches that they only display when disturbed or excited.

Home on their Range

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers can be found throughout the Inner Coastal Plain, Sandhills and Tidewater Regions of North Carolina, the area where there are still enough longleaf pines with the right characteristics to support them and their lifestyle.

Picky Peckers

RCWs are very picky birds. They only live in living pine trees that older than 80 and are not too close to one another that also have soft centers as the result of a fungus problem called red-heart disease. To add to it all, the trees they get their insect food from must be older than 30 and preferably have a trunk diameter of greater than 10 inches. As you can see, logging companies and RCWs have a bit of an ideological clash here, and generally, people with chainsaws win. Since the beginning of European Settlement of the Western Hemisphere, the Longleaf Pine Population has gone down to a mere 3% of its pre-settlement value while the RCW population has gone down to 1% of its pre-settlement value. While some forests are replaced, it is not with the same species of pine, and they still have to mature. Even the Longleaf Pine forests that are left are often not suitable for RCWs because they need the underbrush and lower branches to be burned out by wildfires periodically, but humans often prevent natural fires from occurring despite the benefits they provide to forests.

How We're Fixing Our Mistakes

Despite being listed under the Endangered Species Act very early on, the population of RCWs continued to decline until the '90s when new scientific studies showed a different type of population dynamic and social structure than we had thought, which also meant there were better ways to help the population stabilize again than were in use at the time. So, with active management and new processes used to help the birds that were initiated in the 1990s, the majority of populations have been stabilized and/or are now growing in size.

Pretty Pictures

Sources Used