Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis)
(Federally listed as Endangered)
Description: A medium-sized woodpecker, approximately 8.5 inches in length with a prominent white patch on each cheek and black-and-white striped back. The woodpecker’s sides and belly are lightly marked with black spots and streaks. Although the male Red-cockaded Woodpecker has a tiny red patch behind each eye near the ear (the cockade), the large white cheek patch is the most conspicuous field mark for both sexes. This species is often mistaken for the common Downy Woodpecker which has a white back and a wide black stripe on each side of the head extending through the eye and across the cheek. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers feed on insects which they pick off the bark of trees.
Habitat: Red-cockaded Woodpeckers depend upon large tracts of mature pine woodlands. Preferred habitat consists of mature live pine trees (greater than 60 years old) growing in an open woodland condition with a grassy understory. Nesting and roosting cavities are excavated in live pine trees and the woodpeckers seek out older trees that have become infected with a fungal disease called redheart disease. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers live in extended family groups that may contain two to five adults plus the young from the current year’s brood.
Current and Historic Distribution: Currently, there are approximately 15 family groups of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in Oklahoma. All of these birds live in southeastern Oklahoma on the McCurtain County Wilderness Area, which is owned by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and is the largest tract of uncut pine forest in the state. Historically, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers were more widespread in Shortleaf Pine woodlands in the Ouachita Mountains. Outside of Oklahoma, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers were once found in pine forests across the southeastern United States, but currently they exist in isolated populations in only eight other states.
Reasons for Decline: Forestry operations and other activities that result in widespread cutting of old-growth timber have limited the availability of suitable habitat for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker which requires mature, living pine trees that are at least 60 years old for nesting. Few areas of old-growth pine remain in the U.S. to provide the habitat required for this species.
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