Red-cockaded Woodpecker Reintroduction Efforts

A juvenile Red-cockaded Woodpecker emerges from cavity

A juvenile Red-cockaded Woodpecker emerges from cavity on September 28, the first cohort of birds translocated to Tall Timbers Research Station.

Jim Cox discuss the upcoming release of woodpeckers

Jim Cox discuss the upcoming release of woodpeckers on Tall Timbers for agency personnel and media representatives.

2006

We constructed 44 artificial cavities in a tight circle on the south side of Tall Timbers. The configuration ensured that birds released would have great chances of stumbling across a cavity after being released.

Four pairs released in a special media event on September 28, 2006. Nearly 40 representatives from state and federal wildlife agencies rose early that morning to watch as four adults were released from the pens where they had been held over-night. The event was covered by nearly a dozen newspapers in Florida and Georgia.

2007

Another media event takes place when the first nestlings to hatch on Tall Timbers in over 25 years are banded. Three birds (two males and one female) released in 2006 remained on Tall Timbers into the breeding season of 2007. Things were touch-and-go for a while as we watch the female sitting in a cavity but producing no eggs. Finally, eggs were laid in late may and the young were banded on June 10th. Jim Cox is pictured removing woodpeckers from the nest cavity while Joshua McCormick explains.

Later that year, we excavated another 50 artificial cavities that were distributed throughout Tall Timbers. Another cohort of eight birds is released that fall.

2008

Young Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in the nest.

Young Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in the nest. The Tall Timbers population seemed ready to take off with seven nestlings banded in three nests.

Tall Timbers supported a population of 10 adults heading into the 2008 breeding season. Seven birds were retained from the 2007 releases, and these birds combined with the three adults from 2007 to establish five occupied territories. During the breeding season we had three successful nests, one nest that failed, and a fifth pair of birds that did not attempt to nest. At the end of the breeding season, the Tall Timbers population had reached an impressive count of 18 individuals, the largest number recorded on the property since 1978.

Unfortunately, nature dealt us a severe blow later that summer.

Tropical Storm Fay was the first storm in history to make landfall in Florida four times. The storm moved slowly over Tallahassee from August 22-24, 2008, and doused us with more than 20” of rain. The timing couldn’t have been worse because late summer is a time of year when some juvenile woodpeckers have not yet discovered the warmth and comfort of a cavity. The young birds roost outside at night, often clinging to the bottom side of a limb or nestled into a small crevice in a tree. The ill-timed arrival of the slow-moving tropical storm dumped tons of rain and made life deathly miserable.

Hurricane Fay on path

Hurricane Fay on path to become the first hurricane to make landfall 4 times in Florida. The hurricane decimated the nascent Tall Timbers woodpecker population by flooding cavities.

Immediately after the rains stopped, we found water in about 10% of our artificial cavities and flying squirrels in another 15%. We sucked out water and sent the squirrels packing, but the damage had already been done. A station-wide census suggested only nine woodpeckers remained. Most of the 2008 productivity had been wiped out as birds roosting out at night were pelted with rain and competition for cavities increased. We also lost a disproportionate number of females (50% of our adult population) because female woodpeckers may be forced out of cavities by males when cavity resources are limited.

Tropical storm Fay had a large impact on the regional population as well.  Reports from throughout Florida suggested similar bad luck had hit many other populations, and attempts to find juveniles eligible for translocation were disappointing in the Red Hills. We normally expect about a third of the nestlings banded back in May to still be with us. Numbers in 2008 suggest only 10% of the juveniles are still here. We moved a pair that fall and crossed our fingers hoping the set back was temporary.

2009

Neither of the birds released in 2008 stayed with us, and we had only two nests that produced five young. One of the breeding pairs was assisted by a helper, while two single males held other territories. We released five individuals that fall after spending approximately two weeks cleaning out all our cavities and installing several replacements.

2010

A female dispersed approximately 35 miles from Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area

A female dispersed approximately 35 miles from Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area (A) to Tall Timbers Research Station (B) in 2010.

Thanks to a bit of serendipity, two females that fledged in 2009 dispersed from their natal territories hooked up with the two solitary males present in 2009. Combined with the pairs present in 2009, we were suddenly back up to at least four territories with yet another surprise at a 5th territory. We initially thought another female fledgling from 2009 had hooked with a fledgling male, but the band combinations for the female were all wrong. When we netted here a couple of days later, we found out she had dispersed from Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area near Lake Seminole, a distance of about 30 miles as the crow flies. That fall, we released a final cohort of four woodpeckers from Eglin Air Force Base (with many thanks to Kathy Gault and other staff at Eglin).

2011

Three of the four birds moved from Eglin in 2010 were still here entering the 2011 breeding season, but there were some complications. One of the Eglin females decided to take up residence within an established territory. She and the dominant female for this group spent most of the breeding season chasing one another around, though the territory did manage to fledge one young. We banded 11 young among six nests in 2011, but we missed one young in a territory that had a double brood. We discovered this event when we came across an unbanded juvenile male in early July while out doing nuthatch work. The unbanded male was in a tree with a juvenile female that had been banded back in early May.