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Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Picoides borealis ORDER: PICIFORMES FAMILY: PICIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Near Threatened

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a habitat specialist of the Southeast’s once-vast longleaf pine stands. Its habitat—old pines with very little understory—was shaped by the region’s frequent lightning fires. They also occur in stands of loblolly, slash, and other pine species. The birds dig cavities in living pines softened by heartwood rot. They live in family groups that work together to dig cavities and raise young. The species declined drastically as its original habitat was cut down, and the species was listed as Endangered in 1970.

Keys to identification Help

Woodpeckers
Woodpeckers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are small woodpeckers with short, straight bills.

  • Color Pattern

    Despite their name, they are largely black and white, with a large, bright-white cheek patch and a bold black malar stripe forming the lower border of the cheek. Males have a tiny, nearly invisible red streak (“cockade”) at the upper border of the cheek. The back has strong horizontal black-and-white bars.

  • Behavior

    Red-cockaded Woodpeckers live in family groups and cooperate to raise young. They often forage in small groups and can be quite vocal. They excavate nest and roost cavities in living pine trees, pecking holes in the bark to keep a flow of sticky pitch around the nest cavity.

  • Habitat

    This endangered species is a habitat specialist that is strongly tied to old-growth pine forests that burn frequently, leaving the understory mostly clear of younger pines and hardwoods. They were once common in vast tracts of longleaf pine; now they also occur in loblolly, slash, and some other pine stands in the southeastern pine flatwoods.

Range Map Help

Red-cockaded Woodpecker Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

Similar Species

Similar Species

Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers have a large white stripe down the center of the back instead of the Red-cockaded’s horizontal barring. They also lack the Red-cockaded’s large white cheek patch. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker also lacks the cheek patch and has a white stripe running up the wing.

Find This Bird

With much of this species’ original habitat lost to logging, your best bet for finding this species is in national wildlife refuges, national forests, and other federal preserves that can protect and manage large areas of habitat. Because the species is endangered, some known nesting areas may be off limits and bird watchers should respect those regulations. However, in places where public access is allowed, these birds’ nesting and foraging locations are well known and a quick chat with a ranger or visitor center manager can quickly point you in the right direction. You’ll want to be searching open stands of old pines with very little growth in the understory or subcanopy—if you find yourself in denser vegetation where you can’t easily see the pine trunks, chances are there won’t be any Red-cockaded Woodpeckers there. Nest and roost trees can be easy to spot because of sap flowing down the trunk near the cavities—although bear in mind that the birds typically have several such cavities in their territory.

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