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RCW Recovery Continues at Warren Prairie Natural Area

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Thursday, November 30, 2017

Missing from Warren Prairie Natural Area (WPNA) for nearly three decades, red-cockaded woodpeckers (RCW, Picoides borealis) continue to make a comeback there, nearing the ANHC’s short-term goal of persistently supporting at least 10 potential nesting pairs (pairs nest in most, but not all years). This has followed years of habitat restoration, translocation of RCWs from other populations beginning in 2010, and subsequent nesting by remaining birds.

During a translocation, an RCW is captured from its roost cavity at one site and then transported to and released from an artificial cavity at another site the following morning. This is done to augment RCW population growth. Only RCWs fledged earlier within a year and that have a lower chance of attaining their own territory in the following year are translocated, thus not adversely affecting the source population.

The ANHC released six more RCWs at WPNA last month, all translocated from the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana. ANHC staff helped the Kisatchie staff capture the birds, along with assistance from representative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ouachita National Forest. The ANHC staff then transported the birds to WPNA in southern Arkansas where they were placed in artificial cavities overnight with screens covering the exit (see photo below). The translocated RCWS were released early the next morning (see related article "From the Field: RCW Translocation, a Firsthand Account").

Four of the birds were released as pairs; each pair from its own cavity tree cluster in unoccupied habitat and each bird from its own cavity. A cavity tree cluster includes all of the trees with cavities for RCWs within a particular territory or potential territory. The birds were released from clusters just south of two other unoccupied clusters, providing them with alternative choices. This is important because although the RCWs are released in pairs, they almost always reorganize into different pairs and in to different cluster sites -- Mother Nature does the matchmaking and additional cluster choices increases RCW retention.

Two other RCWs, both female, were released that day at WPNA into separate clusters. Each of these clusters already had single males that had been defending those territories for several months. In this situation, the female will often pair with the resident male and remain within that territory. The strategy of releasing the females in this manner is transitional based on need as available clusters at WPNA become occupied and we near our short term goal. There likely will be fewer translocations of pairs in the coming years with more emphasis on pairing single males defending territories.

In the future, young pine stands at WPNA will mature, restoring RCW habitat. This will provide additional opportunity for growth of the RCW population, working toward the ANHC’s long-term goal of supporting 30 potential nesting pairs.

Photo at top left:

RCW, photo by Bill Holimon.


Photo at left:

Red-cockaded woodpeckers (RCW) were captured in the Kisatchie National Forest, Louisiana and then transported to Warren Prairie Natural Area in southern Arkansas last month to augment population growth of this endangered species. The birds were screened overnight in artificial cavities at Warren Prairie and released early the next morning (see related article). RCWs utilize artificial cavities for roosting and nesting as readily as they do natural cavities.



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