The bird’s namesake, the red “cockade” behind the eye, exists only on males of the species, though both sexes have the black and white bars, black crown and white cheek. It is a relatively small bird with an average length of 8.5 inches, wingspan of 14 inches, and weight of 1.5 ounces.
A rare bird, the red-cockaded woodpecker lives only in mature pine forests in the American southeast. Like most woodpeckers, it pecks on wood, but its tastes are somewhat more specific than most varieties. It seeks out only living pines with red heart disease, a fungus that affects the tree’s heartwood, in which it excavates nesting holes, drilling smaller holes to drain pitch. Groups usually breed in loose colonies in stands of tall pines, reusing their nests from year to year.
The specificity of the bird’s breeding habitat makes it extremely vulnerable to habitat loss. Red heart fungus was once common in trees at least 70 years old, but most pines are cut before they reach that age, resulting in a shortage of nesting sites. Fire prevention and suppression policies have also negatively impacted the species, allowing underbrush to clog the open forests it prefers. Consequently, conservation efforts have focused on the installation of artificial cavities for nesting and controlled burns.March 10, 2011