Living Bird Magazine
Living Bird Magazine
Red-cockaded WoodpeckerDryobates borealis
- ORDER: Piciformes
- FAMILY: Picidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Pico de Florida (Spanish)
- Pic à face blanche (French)
- Cool Facts
- The Red-cockaded Woodpecker roosts and nests only in live pines, usually ones infected with red heart fungus. The disease softens the wood and makes cavity excavation easier. The birds also peck holes in the bark around the nest entrance, causing the tree to leak pitch that helps keep tree climbing snakes away.
- The cavity may extend upward as well as downward, often far enough up for a bird to take refuge from a predator reaching in and down. The exact shape of the cavity follows the contour of the heartrot (see above).
- A cockade is a ribbon or ornament worn on a hat. The "cockade" of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker is the tiny red line on the side of the head of the male. It may be hidden and is very difficult to see in the field.
- The oldest Red-Cockaded Woodpecker on record, a female in North Carolina, was at least 16 years, 1 month old when found in 1999.
- The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a cooperative breeder: it lives in small family groups of one breeding pair and several helpers. The extra birds usually are sons from previous breeding seasons (daughters rarely stay with their parents). The helpers assist in incubation, brooding, and feeding.
- A family of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers excavates a number of cavities within their territory. It may take two years or more to completely dig out one cavity. The breeding male roosts in the best cavity, usually the one most recently created and with the heaviest sap flow. The eggs are laid in this cavity, and the male incubates them at night.