Red-cockaded Woodpecker Record at Pine City
June 15, 2012
Since the presence of RCWs was first documented in the Delta in the late 1970’s, the population at Pine City has seldom been greater than six individuals, but it has persisted. Two RCW breeding groups nested the first time in 2004 and we have maintained two breeding groups since that time. Breeding groups are typically made up of a pair of breeding birds and helpers, usually young males from the previous breeding season, that help incubate the eggs and raise young. In RCWs, the juvenile females generally leave the group before the next breeding season, in search of new, solitary males.
In 2009, mechanical management on the north tract of the natural area opened up the pine flatwoods and made way for the flowers and grasses typical in this habitat. The prairie-like ground cover attracts lots of insects, the main source of food for RCWs. Within a week, a young, male RCW began roosting in the restored habitat (above) and defending it as his territory. To maintain genetic diversity in the population, a young female from the Ouachita National Forest was introduced to the restored area in early April this year as a potential mate for the male bird. Their successful pairing gives Pine City NA a third breeding pair for the very first time.
Why are three breeding groups at this natural area considered a milestone? The ecology and landscape of Pine City NA means that it will never support a large number of RCWs but it does have tremendous potential to serve as a “nursery” or genetic repository for these endangered birds. Other
RCW restoration projects in this region will benefit greatly from the birds that are produced here. Over the last year, we were able to relocate four young males to the Ouachita National Forest and one to our reintroduction project at Warren Prairie Natural Area (see a project update here
). Ultimately, all of these populations will be stronger and healthier with more genetic diversity. In addition, with more breeding groups, the total number of birds is less likely to be dramatically affected by a catastrophic event.
There are currently two other active RCW groups at Pine City NA. One consists of a breeding pair and one helper. The other has a breeding pair and three helpers. Between these two groups, four young have been successfully raised so far this year.
Active management of the rare pine flatwoods at Pine City Natural Area is essential to sustain the populations of this rare bird. Management techniques, such as prescribed fire, maintain the prairie-like ground cover they depend on for food. This landscape also benefits species such as the Northern Bobwhite, Wild Turkey, and Arkansas’s state butterfly, the Diana fritillary.