Where to See
How To Find
Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Trees
The pine trees that house red-cockaded woodpeckers are easy to spot from a distance since they appear to have been painted white by the resin that flows down them. The nests are about 30 feet off the ground in trees that are a foot or more in diameter.
In bright sunshine, the resin of an actively used tree shines like the wax on a white candle. This is because the bird makes many small holes in the tree bark to create what are called resin wells. The white flow typically extends from several feet above the cavity to the tree base.
The birds are visible anytime of year since they are non-migratory and sleep in the tree cavity. (Gopher tortoises and red-cockaded woodpeckers like the same kind of habitat, so be on the lookout for the tortoises and their burrows.)
The best times to see red-cockaded woodpeckers are early in the morning, just after sunrise, when they will be leaving their tree; and late in the afternoon, when they will be returning.
They are often most visible during the nesting season (late April to July) when they are outside attending to their tree.
Where to Look
Blackwater River State Forest has RCW nests that are quite easy to spot from the road. Three Notch, which is in the Coldwater Recreation Area, is the most active area.
Apalachicola National Forest has the region's largest remaining population of red-cockaded woodpeckers in the stands of long-leaf pine. These are distinguished from other pines by the fountain-like needles at the end of branches that are supported by thick, one-inch twigs, the largest produced by any pine species. It's possible to see numerous nests along the Florida Trail that crosses through the huge, 557,000-acre forest. Easier still is driving along a number of forest roads.
Apalachicola is divided into both a western and eastern section. More RCWs live in the western half, in numbers large enough that the population is considered to be totally recovered. The highest concentration of nests is in the area called Wilma, near the intersection of State Road 12 and State Road 65. The tress are easy to spot from a car: all the active trees have white bands painted on them. Park, approach quietly, and wait.
In the eastern section of the Apalachicola forest, some of the best spots are off Roads 376 and 373. One of the best maps pinpointing the nesting areas is contained in Lane's A Birder's Guide To Florida.
Nests are also sometimes seen driving through the nearby Ochlockonee State Park west of the town of Panacea on U.S. 319.
Slash pine is dominant in the Osceola National Forest, but red-cockaded woodpecker nests can be found in the stands of longleaf pine by going east on U.S. 90 to Forest Road 236, the first paved road. Turn left and continue north to Forest Road 278. Go right, and you should find several nests over the next six miles. You can also hike to nests by taking U.S. 90 east past FR 236 to the Mt. Carrie Wayside Park. Leave your vehicle here and start on the one-mile trail. The nest trees are easily distinguishable.
Another spot in Osceola National Forest is the area around the Olustee Battlefield. The nests are off the battlefield and in the woods, requiring a short walk. The Florida Trail extension going north from the battlefield passes a colony at about the first half-mile. Osceola National Forest, the smallest of Florida's three national forests, is located south of I-10 west of Jacksonville.
North of I-10 is the Cary State Forest where nests are far less common. Rather than search blindly, check with the ranger to see if he has a nest located. The forest is located off U.S. 301 about nine miles north of I-10 and the town of Baldwin.
It seems to be almost a secret that Withlacoochee State Forest near Brooksville has one of the state's largest RCW populations, roughly 60 nesting sites, the third largest number in public ownership. They are located both on the Croom and Citrus tracts of the forest, with the best area on the Citrus tract north of Forest Road 10. Some nests are visible from the car, but it's best to stop at the Brooksville headquarters for specific directions because the nests are widely scattered.
In the much larger Ocala National Forest, red-cockaded woodpecker nests are confined to the northern part, northwest of the Salt Springs Recreation Area. One of the best places is on Forest Road 884.
Big Cypress National Preserve has one of South Florida's few good RCW populations, but getting to the colony requires some effort. Take the Florida Trail north from the Oasis Ranger Station, which is located on the Tamiami Trail about 50 miles west of Miami. It's about a four mile walk to the RCW colony. This is some of the prettiest and most remote RCW habitat in the state.
Go to Facts & Information about red-cockaded woodpeckers