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RCW Frequently Asked Questions

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker in a pine tree

What is a red-cockaded woodpecker?
A red-cockaded woodpecker is black and white with horizontal stripes. It has a black head with large white check patches. Males have a small red streak on the sides of the head, which is rarely visible except with a high magnification spotting scope.

Where are red-cockaded woodpeckers found?
In Florida, the largest populations of red-cockaded woodpeckers occur in the Apalachicola National Forest and Eglin Air Force Base, but smaller populations can be found throughout a large portion of the state. Florida's red-cockaded woodpecker population represents 25 percent of the nation's population. Historically, red-cockaded woodpeckers were found throughout the southeastern United States from Florida to New Jersey and Maryland, as far west as eastern Texas, Oklahoma, to Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee. They no longer occur in New Jersey, Maryland, Tennessee or Missouri.

Approximately how many red-cockaded woodpeckers are in Florida?
Florida's population of red-cockaded woodpeckers is estimated at 2,500 nesting pairs.

When was the RCW placed on Florida's imperiled species list?
The RCW was listed as either threatened or endangered by Florida's wildlife agency from 1974 through 2003. In 2003, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reclassified the RCW as a "species of special concern," meaning it still is at high risk of extinction. In 2010, the Commission approved new rules for listing imperiled species and the RCW was listed as federally endangered in Florida.

When was the red-cockaded woodpecker placed on the federal Endangered Species List?
October 13, 1970.

Why is the red-cockaded woodpecker endangered?
Red-cockaded woodpeckers have become endangered due to population declines, largely brought about by habitat destruction attributed to logging, development and aggressive control of forest fires, which historically maintained the open pinelands that RCWs require. These actions have wiped out most of the South's long leaf pine forests and put a stop to regular burning necessary to maintain most healthy pines. Almost 97 percent of the red-cockaded woodpecker habitat has been lost in the past 100 years.

Why are pine forests important to red-cockaded woodpeckers?
Red-cockaded woodpeckers make their nests in cavities they create in mature pine trees. They choose mature trees because older pinewood is often soft, easily excavated, and has a smaller layer of sapwood. Red-cockaded woodpeckers are the only southeastern bird that excavates cavities in living pines.

What does a red-cockaded woodpecker eat?
Woodpeckers feed primarily on ants, beetles, caterpillars, wood-boring insects, spiders, cockroaches and occasionally fruit and berries.

What is the red-cockaded woodpecker's habitat?
Red-cockaded woodpeckers are typically found in open, park-like pine forests maintained by fire. They require at least 75 acres for nesting and feeding.

How do private landowners help in the recovery of the red-cockaded woodpeckers in Florida?
Private landowners play a major role in the recovery of the species because private lands provide habitat to as much as 10 percent of Florida's birds. Private lands also border public lands that contain RCWs.

Land management techniques to help in the red-cockaded woodpecker recovery include:

  • Frequent prescribed burning on a 1-to 3-year rotation to prevent succession.
  • Roller chopping to control dense thickets of saw palmettos and shrubs.
  • Thinning dense timber stands to a "plantation" look.

Besides private landowners, what is Florida doing for the species?
Florida has joined forces with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our neighboring states in forming partnerships with private landowners and creating Safe Harbor agreements to protect the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission carefully manages the red-cockaded woodpecker on 6.5 million acres of wildlife management areas.