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Eight RCWs Released at Warren Prairie Natural Area

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Friday, November 20, 2015

Staff from the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC), the U.S. Forest Service, and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) recently captured eight young red-cockaded woodpeckers (Picoides borealis, RCW) in Louisiana, and the next morning, staff from the ANHC and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) released the RCWs at Warren Prairie Natural Area (WPNA). The woodpeckers released at WPNA came from the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana as the result of considerable effort and coordination in the process called “translocation.”

Translocation is a proactive tool to help recover certain RCW populations and it contributes to the eventual removal of the RCW from the endangered species list. It assists the movement of young birds from donor populations to restored habitat. Donor populations, such as that at Kisatchie National Forest, have a surplus of birds so the removal does not harm their population.

The ANHC translocation team drove to the site in Louisiana to help capture the target birds from their tree cavities just after they roosted at dusk. The team then transported the birds in individual holding boxes and placed them in their new cavities at WPNA before dawn. Just after sunrise, the RCWs were released into their new habitat. Males and females were released together in the hope they will form breeding pairs.

Translocation is an additional step toward restoring a self-sustaining population of this endangered species at WPNA. Landscape-scale conservation work has paved the way to making this Arkansas natural area the first site west of the Mississippi River to reestablish a population of RCWs.

This latest RCW release at WPNA complements previous successful releases conducted annually since the fall of 2010. The annual translocation, followed by productive nesting, has built the RCW population at WPNA from zero to 27 birds in the last five years. The program has gained momentum towards reaching the short-term goal of 10-12 nesting pairs, and the long-term goal of 30 nesting pairs. This success is the result of multiple partnerships with individuals, and state, federal, and private organizations.

Both the RCW and its critical habitat of open, mature pine forests were once common throughout south Arkansas. Today, most of these forests are gone due to altered fire regimes and conversion to younger pine stands. The RCW is a keystone species for this habitat and where the woodpecker makes a comeback, northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), and even Arkansas’s state butterfly, Diana fritillary (Speyeria diana) flourish. The ANHC and partners actively manage open pine habitat through regular prescribed fire implementation and other means to ensure that populations of RCWs and their associates continue to grow.

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