The Everglades’ Red-Cockaded Woodpecker
The Continental North America has a subtropical swamp, sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the
mainland at its south-eastern corner. It is called the Everglades. The natives, who occupied this part before the
Europeans arrived, called it Pa-hay-Okee, the grassy river.
Describing the Everglades, Peter Matthiessen, a naturalist, wrote - “The blowing gray-gold flow of sawgrass in
the glittering fresh [glades] stretched away forever, north and south, to the mysterious dark hammock isles on
the horizon.” The climate and vegetation of this subtropical patch allow a variety of birds to thrive here.
Some are absolutely exclusive to this region. One such species is the red-cockaded woodpecker. It is one of the
smallest of the woodpecker species, measuring only 8 inches in length. It is quite a beauty with black plumage
on the heads and back. Ladder-like patterns of small white spots can be seen on the wings. It has white cheek
patches adding to its loveliness.
These are sociable birds. Although not living in groups of hundreds like the sociable weavers of Kalahari, you
are likely to see them in groups of two to nine. These birds stay in the cavities of a cluster of tress called colony.
All the trees in a colony may not be used by a group. You will see some of the cavities under construction, some
being used, and some are abandoned. The birds take months and years to make their cavity homes. Their
cavities are sometimes encroached by bees, bluebirds and other woodpeckers.
Where to look for them?
You have to visit the pine groves of Everglades to look for these birds. The nests are usually located at a height
of 30 feet off the ground. They peck holes in trees with a diameter of 1 foot or more. It is not very difficult to
spot their nest due to a peculiar characteristic. The cavities appear white due to the resin that flows down them.
The holes are made in old living pines infected with red heart disease.
The infected tree secrets a white resin which the birds use to smear the opening of the nest. The resin is
sometimes useful to ward off predators, especially snakes.
The birds breed in late April through July and lay a clutch of two to five eggs. They are most visible during
their breeding season. They feed on fruits, beetles, and other insects. Being non-migratory birds you can see
them round the year. The best times to spot these birds are early in the morning when they leave their roosts
and during the sunset when they return home.
An endangered species
The bird heavily depends on old growth forests of longleaf and slash pine for their habitat. The trees pecked by
the woodpeckers age between 60 to 120 years or older. This kind of special habitat has placed these birds at a
disadvantage. Mature pine forests in Florida have been massively cut. Moreover trees are harvested with a
rotation of 20 to 40 years due to booming timber trade, in both private and public lands.
As a result there is an absolute scarcity of habitat for these birds. Many lawsuits have been filed
by ecologists to ban this short-sighted land management policy. Another measure that has been taken for
conservation is providing the birds man-made wooden boxes for breeding.
Want to watch birds in Everglades? Contact us for tour rentals and expert guides.