Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers Facts Information - Florida Woodpeckers

Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers
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Florida Everglades

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Habitat


The red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) is Florida's version of the spotted owl, a highly specialized creature that relies on old growth forests for its welfare.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers live in mature forests of longleaf and slash pine where the trees range in age from 60 to 120 years or older. The birds excavate their nests in old living pines infected with red heart disease.

This disease produces a white flowing resin which the birds place around their nest opening, possibility to discourage snakes. This woodpecker is the only bird that makes such cavities in live southern pines.


This kind of specialization has placed the tiny woodpecker at a severe disadvantage, and their number has dwindled so greatly that it is now an endangered species. In booming Florida, most mature pine forests have been cut down.


The outlook for saving the red-cockaded woodpecker is not favorable unless new steps are taken to provide it acceptable nesting space. On both public and private lands, trees are typically harvested on a rotation of every 20 to 40 years.

Traditionally, the emphasis has been on harvesting to the maximum, even on public lands where income from timber has become increasingly important. The result is that wildlife is always at a disadvantage even on lands that were intended to protect them.


What is certain is that the protection is likely to occur only in the boundaries of state and national forests and refuges.

As a result, environmentalists in recent years have filed a number of lawsuits to alter this very short-sighted land management policy. The change has been slow to follow, but at least it has been happening.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated a recovery program on lands it manages as well as on private lands that has met with good success. Population of the birds has increased more than 50% in recent years.

This includes providing man-made wooden boxes for the woodpeckers to nest in, which offers the species a good opportunity to rebound.

A similar program used for wood ducks since the 1940's has proven a tremendous success.



The red-cockaded woodpecker, only 8 inches in length, is one of the area's smallest woodpeckers. The back and top of the head are black. It has ladder-like patterns of small white spots arranged in a horizontal pattern on the back and wings, and large white cheek patches. The red cockades of the male are not readily visible.


These very sociable birds live in clans of two to nine birds. They roost in a cluster of cavity trees called a colony, which may consist of only two trees or up to a dozen. Only one clan uses a colony, but not all trees may be in use. Some tree cavities may still be under construction, others will be in use, while some may be abandoned.

Although the woodpeckers may spend months and even years to perfect their tree cavities, other animals including bees, bluebirds and other woodpeckers often try to claim them. The main work on the tree cavities takes place following the nesting period, not before, and it's usually done in the morning.



Red-cockaded woodpeckers breed from late April through July and lay a clutch of two to five eggs. Non-breeding family members serve as helpers in supplying food for the young, bearing fruit, beetles and other insects to the nest. They also incubate the eggs during the day, but at night the breeding male takes over. The eggs hatch in 10 to 12 days.


A clan normally requires a foraging area of a hundred acres or more. The birds feed at the base and limbs of pine trees which, ideally, are nine inches and more in diameter.

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