Red-cockaded Woodpecker: Picoides borealis


A red-cockaded woodpecker is slightly larger than a bluebird. It has a large white cheek patch, and the top and back of the head are black. The back is barred with black and white. The red-cockade, on the male only, consists of a small red streak above the cheek and is rarely visible.


Once common in the vast expanses of mature pine forests that covered much of the southeastern coastal plain, the red-cockaded woodpecker is now a federally listed endangered species. Today, the birds' preferred habitat -- the longleaf pine ecosystem -- has been eliminated from 97 percent of the lands it once occupied. 

As you pass through red-cockaded woodpecker habitat, be on the lookout for active cavity trees. Sap flows from small holes drilled by the woodpeckers, especially around the cavity entrance; when the sap covers the trunk, the tree resembles a large, waxy candle from a distance. Other animals compete with the red-cockaded woodpecker for the use of their cavities, most notably the Eastern bluebird, flying squirrels and other woodpeckers such as the red-bellied, red-headed and pileated.


While many species of woodpeckers are found in pine forests, the red-cockaded woodpecker is unusual in two ways. First, it is the only woodpecker that excavates cavities in the living part of pine trees. Although they will use other pines such as loblolly, shortleaf or slash, they usually prefer longleaf pines that are 90 - 100 years old. Secondly, red-cockaded woodpeckers have an advanced social system. These woodpeckers live in groups (previously referred to as 'clans') consisting of two to nine birds. The group may include one breeding pair, the young of the year and some adults (usually males) from previous years, called helpers.

Nesting season is in full swing between April and July, so if you are planning to visit a red-cockaded woodpecker cluster (previously described as a "colony") during these months, please use caution and do not approach the cavity trees closely.

The red-cockaded woodpecker is a federally endangered species and is protected by the federal Endangered Species Act. In 2006, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service authorized FWC to create a state Red-cockaded Woodpecker Safe Harbor Program. Learn more about FWC's Red-cockaded Woodpecker Safe Harbor Program.

Additional Information:

Living with Woodpeckers Adobe PDF

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