Photo: USFWS

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Dryobates 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
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.

Download Our Bird Guide App

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.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

Explore Similar Birds