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Endangered Woodpeckers Have Banner Nest Season at Natural Areas

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Tuesday, July 31, 2018

More than a decade ago, the ANHC intensified its efforts to recover populations of the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis, RCW) in Arkansas. Those efforts produced great results this year, with RCWs having a banner-nesting season at three natural areas. Moro Big Pine Natural Area-Wildlife Management Area (Moro Big Pine) led the way, with 15 successful RCW nest attempts (up from 13 last year) resulting in 32 birds successfully fledged (up from 25 last year). At Pine City Natural Area (Pine City), four RCW pairs nested and all four were successful (the latter a new high for the site), with eight chicks fledged. Warren Prairie Natural Area (Warren Prairie) had eight RCW pairs attempt nesting, with seven pairs successfully fledging 14 young (bettering the previous nest season highs of seven, five, and nine respectively).

RCWs had been missing from Warren Prairie for nearly three decades until 2010 when the ANHC initiated repatriation there. The RCW population at Pine City was once nearly lost, decreasing to only one group of RCWs (totaling only three birds).

These upward trends can be attributed to years of collaboration amongst many partners. PotlatchDeltic owns fee title to Moro Big Pine with the ANHC and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) owning conservation easements to the 15,923-acre site. PotlatchDeltic completes all RCW monitoring and habitat management (with an incredible average of 4,000 acres of prescribed burning each year) within guidelines agreed upon by each partner at annual meetings. The ANHC and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) collectively own and manage the 5,590-acre Warren Prairie (the ANHC has legal interest in 5,553 of those acres). Pine City, a 1,043-acre site, is entirely owned by the ANHC but benefits from several partnership efforts, including grant funding from the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), AGFC, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resource Council (ANCRC), and 1/8th-Cent Conservation Tax for habitat restoration at Pine City and Warren Prairie.

The RCW was listed as federally endangered by the USFWS in 1970 and received the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with its passage in 1973. Many factors contributed to RCWs becoming endangered, including loss of habitat throughout their range, fragmentation of remaining habitat, and the removal of fire from the ecosystem. RCWs require open, mature pine forests for habitat, which were once common throughout significant portions of Arkansas. Fire is critical in the development and maintenance of this habitat. Prescribed burns have reestablished fire frequency in many areas and the amount of connective available habitat has increased.

The RCW has benefitted from the ESA protection, increasing from fewer than 10,000 individuals when listed to nearly 20,000 now, though significant work remains. The RCW was once a common species with 2-3 million individual RCWs occurring throughout the southeastern United States at the time of settlement. While challenging, all partners are committed to continuing the successful recovery effort of this endangered species and its open pine ecosystem in Arkansas.


Above left -- RCW feeding its young at Warren Prairie Natural Area, photo by Bill Holimon.

Bottom right -- Two 19-day old male nestlings at Warren Prairie Natural Area. Young males are discerned from females by the presence of a red “cap.” The males lose their red “cap” during the early fall when they molt. At that point, both sexes have an identical appearance, except on the rare occasion when a male flashes his red “cockade,” a small strip of feathers on the side of the head, bordering the cheek, and controlled by muscles. Photo by Bill Holimon.

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