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Safe Harbor: Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker in a pine tree

The red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) has been a federally protected endangered species since 1970 and is federally listed as endangered in Florida.

Florida hosts approximately 25 percent of the nation's red-cockaded woodpecker population, with an estimated 1,100 active family groups. Many of Florida's populations are carefully managed on public lands, the largest of which are Apalachicola National Forest and Eglin Air Force Base. FWC estimates 55-85 active groups reside on private lands, with the largest concentrations in the south-central and southern portions of the state.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers are found throughout Florida.


Conserving the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker through partnerships with private landowners is the goal of Florida's Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Safe Harbor Program.

Since 2006, this statewide program has been authorized through an agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Red-cockaded woodpeckers are protected under the ESA, meaning landowners have a legal obligation to protect the birds and their habitat.

Safe Harbor Agreements make sense whenever landowners are interested in restoring or enhancing habitats that may benefit this endangered species but are concerned about incurring additional regulatory restrictions on the use of their land. It effectively freezes a landowner's ESA responsibilities as long as the owner agrees to restore, enhance or create habitat that benefits red-cockaded woodpeckers.

The Safe Harbor Program has many benefits to landowners, but the primary incentive is the certainty they gain regarding future land use. Property owners can maintain, restore or enhance red-cockaded woodpecker habitat, with the assurance that additional birds will not result in more land use restrictions. The program is voluntary and a landowner can withdraw from it at any time.


Red-cockaded woodpecker with food on a live pine covered in sap

Red-cockaded woodpeckers inspired the first Safe Harbor Agreement, launched in 1995. Florida is the seventh state to offer Safe Harbor Agreements to private landowners. To date, more than 620,000 acres are enrolled in red-cockaded woodpecker Safe Harbor Programs, nationally.