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Endangered Woodpeckers Continue to Thrive at Natural Areas

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Thursday, August 29, 2019

The nest season numbers are in for the federally listed endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (Dryobates borealis, RCW) on ANHC’s natural areas. RCWs had another successful year, surpassing seasonal highs at Moro Big Pine Natural Area, matching seasonal highs met last year at both Pine City and Warren Prairie natural areas, and remaining steady at Huttig Pine Flatwoods Natural Area.

Thanks to continued habitat restoration and an average of 4,000 acres of prescribed burns annually at the natural area, Moro Big Pine continues to support the fastest growing RCW population in the Coastal Plain and likely the entire state, with an increase again in the number of pairs, nesting attempts, and young fledged. Many years of collaboration among several partners has led to the success especially that by PotlatchDeltic who completes all RCW habitat management and monitoring within guidelines agreed upon by each partner at annual meetings.

Before the ANHC initiated repatriation efforts at Warren Prairie Natural Area in 2010, RCWs had been missing from the area for nearly 30 years. Recent monitoring of nest activity at the natural area recorded 10 pairs of RCWs, eight of which nested and seven of which successfully fledged 14 young. The number of successful pairs and fledglings match seasonal highs first met at the natural area last year, reflecting a continued upward pattern in these metrics.

At Pine City Natural Area, the RCW population was once nearly lost. It had decreased to only one group of RCWs comprised of three related individuals before augmentation efforts began in 2010. This year, four pairs of RCWs successfully fledged young at the natural area, matching the previous seasonal high first reached there last year. Nest monitoring also documented that nine young fledged this year, matching the high seen in 2017.

The number of RCW groups at Huttig Pine Flatwoods Natural Area remained steady this year. This natural area supports about a quarter of the second largest population statewide and the largest within the Coastal Plain of Arkansas. However, the number of successful RCW nests at the natural area was lower than the number recorded last year, likely due to heavier than normal rainfall and record flooding this spring. Habitat work is underway at the natural area to improve RCW nest success.

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. 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. RCWs require open, mature pine forests for habitat, which were once common throughout significant portions of Arkansas. Prescribed burns have reestablished fire frequency in many areas, which is critical to the development and maintenance of this habitat. Efforts by conservation professionals to increase the amount of available connective RCW habitat have also been credited with the upward trends in RCW numbers.

RCWs were once a common species with 2-3 million individual RCWs occurring throughout the southeastern United States at the time of human settlement. Although significant work remains, the ESA protection has increased RCW numbers from fewer than 10,000 individuals to nearly 20,000 in recent years. This might sound daunting to some, but conservation partners are committed to continuing the successful recovery effort for this endangered species and its open pine ecosystem in Arkansas.

Pictures:

Top -- Red-cockaded woopecker (RCW) feeding its young at Warren Prairie Natural Area, photo by Bill Holimon. Recent monitoring of nest activity at the natural area recorded 10 pairs of RCWs, eight of which nested and seven of which successfully fledged 14 young.

Middle -- A prescribed burn at Warren Prairie Natural Area in Bradley and Drew counties. RCWs require open, mature pine forests for habitat, which were once common throughout portions of Arkansas. Prescribed burns have reestablished fire frequency in many areas, which is critical to the development and maintenance of the habitat.

Bottom left -- Moro Big Pine Natural Area in Calhoun County continues to support the fastest growing RCW population in the Coastal Plain, and likely the entire state.

Bottom right -- Pine City Natural Area in Monroe County where four pairs of RCWs successfully fledged young this year, matching the previous seasonal high first reached there last year. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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