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Wrynecks Woodpeckers and Piculets: Picidae

Red-cockaded Woodpecker (picoides Borealis): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Red-cockaded woodpeckers are medium, black-and-white woodpeckers with large white cheek patches and back plumage that has alternating, horizontal stripes of black and white. They have a black forehead and the back of the neck is also black with a small red streak on each side of the forehead (called a cockade, thus its name), a black stripe behind eyes, whitish under parts, and a black tail with black-spotted white outer feathers. They have black wings and wing coverts (small feather around quill base) with white spots. Males have several tiny red feathers between white cheek patches and a black crown (top of head), while females do not have red coloring. Young males have a patchy-looking red section on Red-cockaded woodpeckers live in family groups of a mated pair, current young, and unmated adult helpers. (John Snyder/Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.) the forehead, while young females have white flecks on the lower forehead. Adults are 7.1 to 8.7 inches (18 to 22 centimeters) long and weigh between 1.4 and 1.9 ounces (40 and 55 grams). Their wingspan is about 16 inches (40.6 centimeters) long.

Geographic range: They are scattered in eastern Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, southern Missouri, south central Kentucky, central Tennessee, to southeastern Maryland, south to southern Florida and across the Gulf coast.

Habitat: They are widely found in open, mature pine forests and forests of pine mixed with oak, especially long-leaf pines and loblolly pines.

Diet: Red-cockaded woodpeckers eat ants, beetles, caterpillars, roaches, wood-boring insects, and spiders found on tree surfaces, especially pine trees, and by scaling back loose bark. They eat earworms off of corn in the summer, along with berries and nuts. Males forage on limbs and trunk of pines above the lowest branches. Females forage on trunk below the lowest branch.

Behavior and reproduction: Red-cockaded woodpeckers are noisy birds, with calls of "yank-yank," "sripp," and "tsick." They are monogamous, with a family clan of the mated pair, current young, and unmated adult helpers. They nest in the roost cavity of the breeding male, which sometimes takes the male one year to finish (but may be used for years). Only living pine trees are used for the roost/nest. They spend a lot of time maintaining the flow of tree sap, which is used to stop predator snakes. Females lay two to five eggs. The incubation period is ten to fifteen days, and the fledgling period is twenty-two to twenty-nine days. Both parents and helpers care for young, with only one brood each year.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers and people: Because of red-cockaded woodpeckers' dependence on pine forests, they are in conflict with the logging industry. Bird watchers enjoy watching these birds.

Conservation status: Red-cockaded woodpeckers are listed as Vulnerable. They are also listed as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. They have declined in numbers because of deforestation. Conservation measures have been enacted to help the birds recover. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsWrynecks Woodpeckers and Piculets: Picidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, Northern Wryneck (jynx Torquilla): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, WRYNECKS WOODPECKERS AND PICULETS AND PEOPLE