NA­TURE'S NOTE­BOOK

Once abun­dant, this wood­pecker is now en­dan­gered in Florida

Times of the Islands - - Departments - Red-Cock­aded Wood­pecker

Of the 22 species of wood­peck­ers in North Amer­ica and 217 world­wide, nine species are well-known in Florida, in­clud­ing the dwin­dling pop­u­la­tion of the red-cock­aded wood­pecker. This is a small wood­pecker, mea­sur­ing 7.1-7.3 inches in to­tal length, with a wing­span of 13.8-14.8 inches. It weighs only 45 grams. The male is slightly larger than the fe­male.

Other Florida wood­peck­ers are the ivory-billed wood­pecker, which is gen­er­ally be­lieved to be ex­tinct; pileated wood­pecker; north­ern flicker; red-bel­lied wood­pecker; yel­low-bel­lied sap­sucker; red-headed wood­pecker; hairy wood­pecker; and downy wood­pecker.

The red-cock­aded wood­pecker is eas­ily dis­tin­guished from other Florida wood­peck­ers by its hor­i­zon­tally barred back and pre­dom­i­nant white cheek patches. It also has a black crown and nape re­sem­bling a mo­hawk hair­style. The red-bel­lied wood­pecker is the only other wood­pecker in Florida that has a hor­i­zon­tally barred back, but it is much larger than the red-cock­aded wood­pecker and has a large amount of red vis­i­ble on the head.

The red-cock­aded wood­pecker was doc­u­mented as abun­dant in the 19th cen­tury through­out the south­east­ern United States. His­tor­i­cally, it was found through­out the penin­sula of Florida, south to the Homestead area, rang­ing through­out all 67 coun­ties of Florida. Its range still cov­ers most of Florida, but its pop­u­la­tion de­clined sig­nif­i­cantly dur­ing the 20th cen­tury af­ter clear­ing of ma­ture pine forests by the tim­ber in­dus­try.

Re­main­ing red-cock­aded wood­peck­ers are lo­cated in widely scat­tered and iso­lated sub­pop­u­la­tions. Ap­prox­i­mately 75 per­cent of the Florida pop­u­la­tion is in the Pan­han­dle within the Apalachicola Na­tional For­est. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice lists the red­cock­aded wood­pecker in Florida as fed­er­ally en­dan­gered.

This species re­quires large stands of ma­ture to over-ma­ture south­ern pines 30-60 years of age or greater for its habi­tat. His­tor­i­cally, it used long-leaf pine the most, but in Florida it is most likely to use slash pine for its habi­tat. The for­est ar­eas used by the red-cock­aded wood­pecker are open park-like stands lack­ing a thick un­der­story of hard­woods and ex­otic

ITS RANGE STILL COV­ERS MOST OF FLORIDA, BUT ITS POP­U­LA­TION DE­CLINED SIG­NIF­I­CANTLY DUR­ING THE 20TH CEN­TURY AF­TER CLEAR­ING OF MA­TURE PINE FORESTS BY THE TIM­BER IN­DUS­TRY.

veg­e­ta­tion be­cause of fre­quent burn­ing. The wood­pecker needs these open ar­eas to ob­serve and fly to its nest­ing cav­i­tiy.

The Bab­cock/Webb Wildlife Man­age­ment Area, 16 miles north of Fort My­ers and 10 miles north­east of Cape Co­ral, pro­vides such a habi­tat and of­fers a good place to view this wood­pecker species.

The red-cock­aded wood­pecker’s home range varies in size through­out Florida. In north Florida, where long-leaf pine habi­tat qual­ity is higher, home ranges av­er­age 300-350 acres, whereas south Florida’s slash pine habi­tats av­er­age 350-400 acres.

This is the only North Amer­i­can wood­pecker that ex­ca­vates its roost­ing and nest­ing cav­i­ties in ma­ture live pine trees. It can ex­ca­vate a cav­ity, mea­sur­ing 2.25 inches in di­am­e­ter, in one to three years. The cav­ity is placed 3-10 feet be­low the low­est crown branches on the south­west or west side of the tree. A clus­ter (colony) of cav­ity trees also in­cludes aban­doned cav­ity trees and trees with starter holes.

Cav­ity trees have greater heart­wood di­am­e­ter and thin­ner sap­wood than other ma­ture pines. They usu­ally are in­fected with heart­wood dis­ease caused by the “red heart” fun­gus that de­cays the heart­wood and aids in cav­ity ex­ca­va­tion. When the cav­ity is com­pleted, the wood­pecker pecks holes around the cav­ity en­trance that serve as "resin wells." These wells are main­tained to sus­tain the flow of sap, giv­ing the cav­ity tree a can­dle-like ap­pear­ance. This con­tin­u­ous flow of sap is a strong de­ter­rent to rat snakes and other preda­tors of cav­ity-nest­ing birds.

Breed­ing sea­son in Florida runs from mid to late April through early June. The fe­male usu­ally has one brood. Clutch size is two to five eggs. In­cu­ba­tion is only 10-11 days, one of the short­est pe­ri­ods among all birds. The young fledge in 27-28 days.

The red-cock­aded wood­pecker for­ages mostly on spi­ders and the eggs, lar­vae and adults of arthro­pods. It will also feed oc­ca­sion­ally on fruits and pine masts.

Sur­vival of the red-cock­aded wood­pecker de­pends on set­ting aside and man­ag­ing more pub­lic and pri­vate land sup­port­ing ma­ture growth of open pine forests that have a mix­ture of trees rang­ing in age from 30 to 60 years old or more. You can help by vis­it­ing and sup­port­ing ex­ist­ing na­tional and state forests, as man­ag­ing land is ex­pen­sive.

Bab­cock/Webb Wildlife Man­age­ment Area in Char­lotte County of­fers prime habi­tat for the red- cock­aded wood­pecker .

A red-cock­aded wood­pecker leav­ing its nest­ing cav­ity in live slash pine ( left) and for­ag­ing on arthro­pod lar vae ( right).

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