Friday, July 10, 2015

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

As John Holden and I attempted to photograph nuthatches at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge near Covington, Louisiana on 21 March, Erika came running back down the Boy Scout Trail. She and Kathy had discovered several Red-cockaded Woodpeckers about a quarter mile further up the road.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers are found from eastern Texas to southern Virginia, but their range is quite fragmented. They require old-growth Long-leaf Pine, which has been lumbered, converted to Slash Pine, and otherwise destroyed by human and environmental factors (such as bark beetle infestations and hurricanes). As a result, only about 10,000 adults survive across their range. These birds breed in family groups, called clans, near clusters of older, but living, trees. Breeding pairs are often assisted by offspring, almost always males, hatched in previous years (Jackson 1994; Birds of the World—Alive; Costa 2002).

Red-cockaded are one of our most studied woodpeckers. The species is nonmigratory, and nesting colonies are usually known to local birders. Indeed, most of these woodpeckers persist in scientific study areas, often on Federal land. Look closely at the bottom photograph and notice that the bird is adorned with at least two leg bands.

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