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Eight RCWs Translocated to Warren Prairie NA

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Thursday, November 21, 2019

ANHC staff released eight red-cockaded woodpeckers (Dryobates borealis, RCW) at Warren Prairie Natural Area (WPNA) in Bradley and Drew counties this October, augmenting successful efforts to reestablish a population there of the federally listed endangered species.

During translocation, an RCW is captured from its roost cavity at one site and then transported to and released from an artificial cavity at another site the following morning. This is done to increase RCW population growth. During this year’s translocation, staff from the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana captured the RCWs. The ANHC translocation team drove to Louisiana and brought the RCWs back to Arkansas where, with assistance from Ouachita National Forest staff, they placed the birds in their new cavities overnight at WPNA with screens covering the exits. Just after sunrise, the screens were removed and the RCWs were released into their new habitat. The birds were released as pairs; each pair from its own cavity tree cluster in unoccupied habitat and each bird from its own cavity. A cavity tree cluster includes all of the trees with cavities for RCWs within a particular territory or potential territory.

The ANHC began translocating RCWs in 2010. Translocation is an additional step toward restoring a self-sustaining population of RCWs at WPNA. In the future, young pine stands at the natural area will mature, restoring RCW habitat. Once this occurs, it will provide additional opportunity for growth of the RCW population, working toward the ANHC’s long-term goal of supporting 30 or more potential nesting pairs at the natural area. Only RCWs fledged earlier that year, who have a lower chance of attaining their own territory in the following year, are translocated. Donor populations, such as that at Kisatchie National Forest, have a surplus of birds, thus the removal does not harm their population.

The RCW was listed as federally endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 1970 and received the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with its passage in 1973. Both the RCW and its critical habitat of open, mature pine forests were once common throughout south Arkansas. Loss of habitat throughout their range, fragmentation of remaining habitat, and the removal of fire from the ecosystem are some of the many factors that have contributed to RCWs becoming endangered. The RCW is a keystone species for open pine habitat and where the woodpecker makes a comeback, northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), and even Arkansas’s state butterfly, the Diana fritillary (Speyeria diana) flourish. The ANHC and partners actively manage open pine habitat through regular prescribed fire implementation and other means to ensure the populations of RCWs and their associates continue to grow.

Although significant work remains, the ESA protection has increased RCW numbers from fewer than 10,000 individuals to nearly 20,000 in recent years. For a more detailed account of an RCW release, read Leslie Patrick’s 2017 enews article “From the Field: RCW Translocation, a Firsthand Account.”

Photos: Top -- A helper male Red-cockaded woodpecker (Dryobates borealis) at Warren Prairie Natural Area in 2015. Photo by Bill Holimon.

Middle -- ANHC Aquatic Ecologist, Dustin Lynch, and ANHC Habitat Coordinator, Patrick Solomon, pulling the string to release a Red-cockaded woodpecker (Dryobates borealis) by removing the mesh covering an artificial cavity at Warren Prairie Natural Area. Photo by Samantha Scheiman.

Bottom -- One of the Red-cockaded woodpeckers (Dryobates borealis) after translocation and release at Warren Prairie Natural Area in October 2019. Photo by Samantha Scheiman.

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