In the early 1900s, John James Audubon reported that the red-cockaded woodpecker was found “abundantly” in the pine forests of the southeastern United States. Historically, this woodpecker's range extended from Florida to New Jersey, as far west as Texas and Oklahoma, and inland to Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee, with an original population numbering over 1.5 million.
Today it is estimated that there are about 6,000 family units (groups) of red-cockaded woodpeckers, or 15,000 birds, living in clusters (groups of cavity trees) from Florida to Virginia and west to southeast Oklahoma and eastern Texas, representing less than 1 percent of the woodpecker's population at the time of European settlement.
The red-cockaded woodpecker has been on the endangered species list since October 1970 (under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973). In Mississippi, red-cockaded woodpeckers are found primarily in the North Central Hills, South Central Hills and Pine Belt regions.
Red-cockaded woodpeckers have declined along with the quantity and quality of the pine forests they need for nesting and foraging.
The overall number of older pines and the size of the forests have both decreased. The remaining forestland is highly fragmented, making it hard for new generations of birds to find suitable sites.
Regular fires help maintain open forests the birds prefer; fire suppression has had a detrimental effect on the red-cockaded population.
In every state where red-cockaded woodpeckers are found, the Conservancy is at work to conserve, maintain and restore habitat that these birds need to survive.
Because they require mature, open pine forests, prescribed fire plays a critical role in maintaining and restoring habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers. Seasonal doses of fire keeps woody underbrush at bay and prevents the woodlands from becoming too dense with trees.
Additionally, the Conservancy works with private and industrial forest landowners in developing timber management solutions that are ecologically sustainable and capable of supporting red-cockaded populations and that provide good economic returns.