Red-cockaded woodpeckers

Knock on Wood at The Disney Wilderness Preserve

The red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) is a federally endangered species found only in the southeastern United States.

To survive, the RCW requires large, intact, fire-maintained pine forests like those at the carefully-restored Disney Wilderness Preserve (DWP).

Because the RCW had gone locally extinct at DWP, a translocation program was begun in 2007. Scientists first placed artificial cavity boxes into live, mature longleaf pine trees.

Shimmed and puttied to keep out rain, the finished product appears very similar to a woodpecker-built cavity.

Installing these in several trees in close proximity creates a cluster site. Recording height, direction, tree size and location of cavities helps scientists determine which an RCW may accept.

Each fall, scientists trap up to 10 young RCWs from large donor populations and relocate them to DWP. One male and one female are placed in nearby cavities in a cluster site.

Conservancy scientist Jennifer Milikowsky collects measurements such as weight, wing length, wing wear, tail length and bill length.

The few red feathers seen here give the RCW its name, and let scientists identify this as an adult male. Females lack the red cockade.

Translocated birds are given their privacy until April. Here we use a Peeper-scope, or camera-on-a-stick, to look for nesting activity.

This is photo from the Peeper-scope. RCWs typically produce two to four, solid white eggs. Parents take turns sitting on the nest.

After 11 days, chicks begin to hatch. In a process called pipping, a hatchling uses a sharp point on the end of its beak to break through the shell. This point soon falls off.

Both parents feed the chicks frequently, foraging up to a half-mile each day for food. In just two days the chicks appear twice the size of the eggs.

At six days, dark spots and bristles begin to appear as wing and tail feathers develop on the chick.

At 7-9 days, chicks are carefully removed from the nest and taken to solid ground to be banded. Quickly returned, they are fed by a parent bird who sometimes has watched the process.

At 16 days, the chick is fully feathered and active, but will remain safe within the nest cavity for another 10 days before fledging.

Scientists use spotting scopes to observe whether chicks survive the most vulnerable time of their life: fledging the nest. In 2010, four fledglings survived at DWP!


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