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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Red-cockaded Woodpecker -- Picoides borealis

RANGE: Resident locally from eastern Oklahoma, southern Missouri, northern Arkansas, northern Mississippi, northern Alabama, northern Georgia, southeastern Virginia, and southern Maryland south to eastern Texas, the Gulf Coast, and southern Florida, and north in the Cumberland plateau through eastern Tennessee to Kentucky.

STATUS: Endangered.

HABITAT: Endemic to the yellow pine forests of the southeastern United States, where hardwoods make up less than 35 percent of the tree stand. Generally, inhabits mature forests (at least 60 years old) or younger forests where groups of mature trees are present. It is found in forests dominated by several species of pine, but probably the largest populations are found where longleaf pine is prevalent.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Mature living pines with heartrot for nesting, and extensive pine stands for foraging.

NEST: Excavates nest holes in mature living pines infected with red heartrot. Same pair may reuse a cavity for several years. Breeds cooperatively with auxiliary or helper birds (clan) aiding a mated pair in the rearing of young. Clan size is generally two to four birds at the beginning of the breeding season.

FOOD: Prefers living pines for foraging substrate, especially larger pines. Consumes mostly insects (larvae of wood-boring insects, beetles, grubs, ants, crickets, caterpillars, scales, bark lice, and grasshoppers). Also consumes mast (primarily seeds of conifers), fruit pulp, and poison-ivy and bayberry seeds.

REFERENCES: Baker 1971, Beal 1911, Crosby 1971, Hopkins and Lynn 1971, Jackson 1971, Johnsgard 1979, Lennartz 1984, Ligon 1970, 1971b, Oberholser 1974a, Steirly 1957.

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