Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Picoides borealis

Summary 7

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis) is a woodpecker found in southeastern North America.

Red cockaded woodpecker 8

The red-cockaded woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis) is a woodpecker found in southeastern North America.


Detail of head

The red-cockaded woodpecker is small to mid-sized species, being intermediate in size between North America's two most widespread woodpeckers (the downy and hairy woodpeckers). This species measures 18–23 cm (7.1–9.1 in) in length, spans 34–41 cm (13–16 in) across the wings and weighs 40–56 g (1.4–2.0 oz).[2][3][4] Among the standard measurements, the wing chord is 9.5–12.6 cm (3.7–5.0 in), the tail is 7–8.2 cm (2.8–3.2 in), the bill is 1.9–2.3 cm (0.75–0.91 in) and the tarsus is 1.8–2.2 cm (0.71–0.87 in).[5] Its back is barred with black and white horizontal stripes. The red-cockaded woodpecker's most distinguishing feature is a black cap and nape that encircle large white cheek patches. Rarely visible, except perhaps during the breeding season and periods of territorial defense, the male has a small red streak on each side of its black cap called a cockade, hence its name.


The red-cockaded woodpecker feeds primarily on ants, beetles, cockroaches, caterpillars, wood-boring insects, and spiders, and occasionally fruit and berries.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers are a territorial, nonmigratory, cooperative breeding species, frequently having the same mate for several years.The nesting season runs from April to June. The breeding female lays three to four eggs in the breeding male's roost cavity. Group members incubate the small white eggs for 10–13 days. Once hatched, the nestlings remain in the nest cavity for about 26–29 days. Upon fledging, the young often remain with the parents, forming groups of up to nine or more members, but more typically three to four members. There is only one pair of breeding birds within each group, and they normally only raise a single brood each year. The other group members, called helpers, usually males from the previous breeding season, help incubate the eggs and raise the young. Juvenile females generally leave the group before the next breeding season, in search of solitary male groups. The main predators of red-cockaded nests are rat snakes, although corn snakes also represent a threat.[6][6]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Historically, this woodpecker's range extended in the southeasternUnited States from Florida to New Jersey and Maryland, as far west as eastern Texas and Oklahoma, and inland to Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Today it is estimated that there are about 5,000 groups of red-cockaded woodpeckers, or 12,500 birds, from Florida to Virginia and west to southeast Oklahoma and eastern Texas, representing about 1% of the woodpecker's original population. They have become extinct-(extirpated), in New Jersey, Maryland, and Missouri.

Male at nest cavity in Longleaf Pine

The red-cockaded woodpecker makes its home in mature pineforests. Longleaf pines (Pinus palustris) are most commonly preferred, but other species of southern pine are also acceptable. While other woodpeckers bore out cavities in dead trees where the wood is rotten and soft, the red-cockaded woodpecker is the only one which excavates cavities exclusively in living pine trees. The older pines favored by the red-cockaded woodpecker often suffer from a fungus called red heart rot which attacks the center of the trunk, causing the inner wood, the heartwood, to become soft. Cavities generally take from 1 to 3 years to excavate.

The aggregate of cavity trees is called a cluster and may include 1 to 20 or more cavity trees on 3 to 60 acres (12,000 to 240,000 m²). The average cluster is about 10 acres (40,000 m²). Cavity trees that are being actively used 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 typical territory for a group ranges from about 125 to 200 acres (500,000 to 800,000 m²), but observers have reported territories running from a low of around 60 acres (240,000 m²), to an upper extreme of more than 600 acres (2.40 km²). The size of a particular territory is related to both habitat suitability and population density.

The red-cockaded woodpecker plays a vital role in the intricate web of life of the southern pine forests. A number of other birds and small mammals use the cavities excavated by red-cockaded woodpeckers, such as chickadees, bluebirds, titmice, and several other woodpecker species, including the downy, Hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers. Larger woodpeckers such as northern flicker, red-bellied or pileated woodpecker may take over a red-cockaded woodpecker cavity, sometimes enlarging the hole enough to allow eastern screech owls, wood ducks, and even raccoons to move in later. Flying squirrels, several species of reptiles and amphibians, and insects, primarily bees and wasps, also will use red-cockaded woodpecker cavities.


The red-cockaded woodpecker has been the focus of conservation efforts even before the passing of the Endangered Species Act in 1970. In Florida, pairs are being released at DuPuis Management Area.

Due to the high importance of nesting habitat on the woodpecker's reproduction, much management has been dedicated to create ideal and more numerous nesting sites. Nesting clusters have been spared from forestry activity to preserve old-growth, large diameter trees. The nesting sites themselves have also been managed to make them more appealing. The use of controlled burning has been used to reduce deciduous growth around nesting colonies. The red-cockaded woodpecker has been shown to prefer nesting sites with less deciduous growth. The use of controlled burning must be exercised with caution due to the highly flammable resin barriers formed by the woodpecker.[7]

In an effort to increase the red-cockaded woodpecker population, states such as Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia's wildlife management are creating artificial cavities in Longleaf Pine trees. There are two methods in which wildlife management officers use to insert cavities in long leaf pines. The most respected and latest approach is to carve out a nesting cavity in the tree and insert a man-made nest. The older and less used approach is to drill a cavity into the tree in hopes that the birds will settle there and nest.[8]

Due to the energetically expensive process of excavating new cavities, more energy is expended competing for existing home ranges rather than colonizing new areas. Red-cockaded woodpeckers will make use of artificial cavities and even recolonize abandoned ranges when cavities are created.[9]

In addition to the creation of new cavities, methods for protecting existing cavities are also used. The most common technique employed is a restrictor plate. The plate prevents other species from enlarging or changing the shape of the cavity entrance. These restrictor plates must be carefully monitored, however, to ensure that no hindrance is given to the woodpecker. Adjustments must also be made as the tree grows.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^BirdLife International (2013). "Picoides borealis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 

  2. ^

  3. ^All About Birds

  4. ^Animal Diversity Web

  5. ^Woodpeckers: An Identification Guide to the Woodpeckers of the World by Hans Winkler, David A. Christie & David Nurney. Houghton Mifflin (1995), ISBN 978-0395720431

  6. ^ abLongleaf Alliance

  7. ^Richard N. Conner, Brian A. Locke. "Effects of a Prescribed Burn on Cavity Trees of Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers". Wildlife Society Bulletin, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Winter, 1979), pp. 291-293. JSTOR 3781867. 

  8. ^Georgia Public Broadcasting: Georgia Outdoors. "The Red Hills of Georgia (transcript, p. 6)". Archived from the original on 2007-06-28. Retrieved 2007-05-14. 

  9. ^Carole K. Copeyon, Jeffrey R. Walters, J. H. Carter III. "Induction of Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Group Formation by Artificial Cavity Construction". The Journal of Wildlife Management, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Oct., 1991) pp. 549-556. JSTOR 3809497. 

  10. ^J.H. Carter, III, Jeffrey R. Walters, Steven H. Everhart, Phillip D. Doerr. "Restrictors for Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Cavities". Wildlife Society Bulletin, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring, 1989), pp. 68-72. JSTOR 3782042. 

Sources and Credits

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  4. Lance Cpl. Matthew K. Hacker, United States Marine Corps. Original photograph taken by: James Hanula, USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station, May 1992, no known copyright restrictions (public domain),
  5. (c) gyrrlfalcon, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC), uploaded by Jennifer Rycenga,
  6. (c) gyrrlfalcon, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC), uploaded by Jennifer Rycenga,
  7. (c) Wikipedia, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA),
  8. (c) Unknown, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA),

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