The Red-cockaded Woodpecker has been the focus of conservation efforts even before the passing of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 and St. Marks NWR is actively involved in the recovery of this species. The Red-cockaded Woodpecker Plan, (1903) has a panhandle population goal of 1,000 potential breeding groups.
Active refuge management of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker habitat and population headed by Refuge biologist Joe Reinman has not only prevented extermination within the range locally, but also fostered population growth. This initiative is still very active until robust numbers of these birds take hold.
The Friends of St Marks Wildlife Refuge supports this recovery effort by funding interns to work with Refuge biologists and rangers.
The Importance of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker
The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a territorial, non-migratory species that plays an important role in the shared environment of the southern pine forests. They are the only woodpecker species that chooses living trees when they excavate. While the RCWs may choose any pine source for nesting, the Longleaf Pine is preferred.
Red-cockaded woodpeckers are primary cavity nesters, meaning they are responsible for the construction of cavities. In the Refuge's Longleaf Pine ecosystem, there are many secondary cavity users that benefit from the RCWs work.
As a result, these woodpeckers are considered a foundational species because use of their cavities by other pine forest animals contributes to species richness and diversity. Many species have been documented using RCW cavities, either for roosting or nesting, including birds, snakes, lizards, squirrels and frogs.
One reason that RCWs may choose Longleaf Pines is that they structurally possess small resin wells, which exude sap. By intermittent excavation of these wells, the RCWs keep the sap flowing, apparently as a cavity defense mechanism against snakes and other predators while the nest is active.
The Value of Artificial Nestboxes
Due to the energetically expensive process of excavating new cavities, more energy is expended competing for existing home ranges rather than colonizing new areas. So in an effort to increase the red-cockaded woodpecker population, states such as Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Florida's wildlife management are creating artificial cavities in Longleaf Pine trees.
There are two methods in which wildlife management officers use to insert cavities in long leaf pines. The most respected and latest approach is to carve out a nesting cavity in the tree and insert a man-made nest.
In the videos below, St. Marks biologist Jonathan Chandler, with the help of intern Chlöe Dubben, prepares a Longleaf Pine for the installation of a man-made nestbox, and then installs the box.