The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is classified as an endangered species.
Today’s swamp buggy tour started out perfect and just kept getting better! We had beautiful
weather and a lovely family, a woman with her husband, their son and his friend. Turns out,
both young men are both in college to become biologists.
This swamp buggy tour turned into quite an experience for them as we ran into the *FWC
biologist. He was out collecting data in the field about the endangered red-cockaded
woodpecker colonies here. (*FWC — Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation)
The biologist spent over an hour with us answering questions and discussing the birds and
their nesting habits. It was particularly intriguing and educational. Where else can you
appreciate things like this?
In the world of North American woodpeckers, red-cockaded woodpeckers stand out as an
exception to the usual rules.
Red-cockaded woodpeckers are the only woodpeckers to excavate nest and
roost sites in living trees. Living in small family groups, red-cockaded
woodpeckers are a social species, unlike other woodpecker species.
These groups chatter and call throughout the day, using a wide variety of
vocalizations. The red-cockaded woodpeckers are one of only two
woodpecker species protected by the Endangered Species Act.
The other protected woodpecker species, the ivory-billed woodpecker, had
been assumed extinct for decades until sightings on a national wildlife
refuge in the Southeast.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Federal and State
agencies and private landowners, to keep red-cockaded woodpeckers
from sliding to extinction.
It’s all about the habitat…
Red-cockaded woodpeckers live in mature pine forests—specifically those with longleaf
pines averaging 80 to 120 years old and loblolly pines averaging 70 to 100 years old.
From the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, red-cockaded woodpeckers declined rapidly as their
mature pine forest habitat was altered for a variety of uses, primarily timber harvest
Pine savannahs and open woodlands once dominated the southeastern United States and may
have totaled more than 200 million acres at the time of European colonization.
Longleaf pine communities may have covered 60 to 92 million of those acres. Today, fewer
than 3 million acres remain.
Listed in 1970 as endangered, red-cockaded woodpeckers once ranged from Florida to
Maryland and New Jersey, as far west as Texas and Oklahoma, and inland to Missouri,
Kentucky, and Tennessee.
Home is where the pine trees are…
The red-cockaded woodpeckers are about the size of cardinals, these woodpeckers excavate
cavities exclusively in living pine trees, preferring older pines infected with the
fungal red heart disease that softens heartwood.
Red-cockaded woodpeckers need up to three years to excavate the cavities they use fornesting and roosting. The woodpeckers are faithful to their cavity trees, and each member of the group has its own roost cavity.
Cavity trees occupied by a group are called a cluster and may include 1 to 20 or more trees on 3 to 60 acres.
Red-cockaded woodpeckers peck holes around actively used cavities. These small wells exude resin that coats much of the tree. The birds keep the resin flowing as a defense against rat snakes and other predators.
Red-cockaded woodpeckers play a vital role in the intricate web of life of southern pine forests.
A number of birds and mammals use the nest cavities that the woodpeckers excavate – such aschickadees, bluebirds, titmice, and species including the downy, hairy, and red-belliedwoodpeckers.
Larger woodpeckers may take over a red-cockaded woodpecker cavity, sometimes enlargingthe hole enough to allow screech owls, wood ducks, and even raccoons to move in.
Several species of reptiles and amphibians, and insects, primarily bees and wasps, also
use red-cockaded cavities.
Everyone had a fabulous time and then after the swamp buggy tour, it was “supper” at
Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe´. I had the hamburger with bacon, and they had blue crabs, and not
able to choose, finally decided on eating both the soft shell and hard blue crabs.
We wrapped up the day with Joanie’s famous guava cheese cake, (once tasted you will kill
to have it again.)
All in all, it was a rare day on the swamp buggy tour, (with the chance meeting the FWC biologist), but it does happen!
Call right now and make reservations, and perhaps it will happen for you.
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I appreciate you,