The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a medium size North American bird. Generally about 20-22 cm long, with a wingspan of about 35 cm, these birds are quite distinctive. Their backs are barred with white and black stripes like that of their relative, the Red-Bellied Woodpecker, however the Red-cockaded’s most distinguishing feature is their black cap and nape. The males of this species have a red streak on each side of their black caps.
The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a bird that is rarely seen. For those seeking to view one, you will have the most success during their breeding season. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are non-migratory birds. Their range extends from Florida to Virginia and as west to eastern Texas and southeastern Oklahoma. Sadly, these woodpeckers have become extinct in New Jersey, Maryland and Missouri.
The Red-cockaded Woodpecker prefers to live in pine forests. They will most often build their homes in Longleaf Pines, however they will use other species of southern pines as well. These woodpeckers bore out their cavity homes only in living pine trees, unlike other species of woodpeckers which make their homes in dead trees. It generally takes a Red-cockaded Woodpecker 1-3 years to completely excavate their cavity dwelling.
The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a cooperative breeding species, sharing the responsibilities of building their nests and caring for their young. These woodpeckers often share the same mate for several years at a time. Red-cockaded woodpeckers are extremely territorial birds, and you will often see the male diligently chasing off predators.
Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are family birds. The female generally lays three to four eggs in a brood, and the eggs incubate for about 10-12 days. It generally takes about 26 days before the nestlings will fledge. Once the birds fledge however, they will often remain with the parents, forming family groups of usually three to four members.
Red-headed Woodpeckers are omnivores, and feed on both insects and fruit and berries. They primarily feed on insects such as ants, cockroaches, caterpillars and beetles as well as wood-boring insects and spiders. While they do eat fruit and berries, this is not their main source of sustenance and is only eaten on occasion.
Because Red-headed Woodpecker’s numbers are diminishing, there are many areas that are making efforts to help increase the population. In many parts of the South, the Department of Natural Resources is using two different methods to help increase their numbers. By carving a wedge out of a tree and inserting a wood nesting cavity that has been pre-made, or drilling a cavity into the tree, the department is helping to increase the living space for these birds in hopes of increasing breeding.