Photo: USFWS

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Picoides borealis

Once fairly common in the southeastern United States, this bird is now rare, local, and considered an endangered species. It requires precise conditions within mature pine forest, a habitat that is now scarce. Lives in isolated clans, each clan an extended family group, with one pair of adults assisted in their nesting by up to four additional birds. The red cockade for which the bird is named, a small patch of feathers behind the eye of the male, is usually hard to see in the field.
Conservation status Endangered. Has disappeared from many areas of former occurrence, with ongoing decline documented in several regions. Total population perhaps under 10,000, many of these in isolated groups facing local extinction. Causes for decline include suppression of natural fires, over-cutting of pine forest in southeast.
Family Woodpeckers
Habitat Open pine woodlands. Ideal habitat is mature pine woods (trees 80-100 or more years old), with very open understory maintained by frequent fires (the pines are fire-resistant). Most common in longleaf pine, but inhabits other pines as well, rarely cypress adjacent to pine woods.
Once fairly common in the southeastern United States, this bird is now rare, local, and considered an endangered species. It requires precise conditions within mature pine forest, a habitat that is now scarce. Lives in isolated clans, each clan an extended family group, with one pair of adults assisted in their nesting by up to four additional birds. The red cockade for which the bird is named, a small patch of feathers behind the eye of the male, is usually hard to see in the field.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
Feeding Behavior

Forages mainly on pine trunks and branches, flaking off bits of bark in search of insects underneath. Family groups may forage together, males tending to forage on branches and upper trunk, females on lower trunk.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-5. White. Incubation is by both parents and to some extent by additional helpers; breeding male is on nest at night. Incubation period notably short, about 10-11 days. Young: Are fed by both parents and by helpers. Young leave nest at about 26-29 days. 1 brood per year, rarely 2.


Young

Are fed by both parents and by helpers. Young leave nest at about 26-29 days. 1 brood per year, rarely 2.

Diet

Mostly insects. Feeds mainly on insects and other arthropods, especially ants and beetles, also termites, roaches, centipedes, and others. Also eats some wild fruits and pine seeds.


Nesting

Taking part in nesting are the breeding pair plus 1-4 additional "helpers." These helpers are mostly males (70-95% of those studied) and mostly the breeding pair's offspring from previous seasons. Nest: Preferred sites are cavities excavated in large live pines infected with red heart fungus (which gives tree soft center inside solid outer shell). Cavity usually 30-40' above ground, can be much lower or higher (to well above 100'). Entrance surrounded by tiny holes from which sticky resin oozes out, protecting nest from climbing predators.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Generally permanent resident; may wander some distance, perhaps after habitat destruction. Young females often disperse farther away from birthplace than young males.

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Migration

Generally permanent resident; may wander some distance, perhaps after habitat destruction. Young females often disperse farther away from birthplace than young males.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A nuthatch-like yank-yank. Also a rattling scold note.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Picidae, Woodpeckers Tree-clinging Birds

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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