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Red Cockaded Woodpecker is making a comeback in Hitchcock Woods

Loss of habitat put the Red Cockaded Woodpecker on the endangered species list back in 1970. The Hitchcock Woods Foundation is trying to reverse that trend.
Published: May. 13, 2022 at 6:29 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The Red Cockaded Woodpecker is a rare sight to see these days, but they do call the CSRA home. They’ve been on the endangered species list since the 1970s and only 1% of the original population remains. The biggest reason for decreasing numbers is the loss of habitat.

Longleaf Pine habitat once covered 90 million acres from Virginia to Texas. Now only 4 million acres remain and species like the Red Cockaded Woodpecker that call this habitat home have seen their numbers drop drastically. The Hitchcock Woods Foundation in Aiken County is trying to reverse that trend.

Bennett Tucker, Woods Superintendent for HWF, said, “through using prescribed fire, selective thinning, and other practices we have seen a great rebound of a number of native wildlife species here in this region”.

After an initial survey in 2016, they found zero Red Cockaded Woodpeckers in Hitchcock Woods. Through a partnership with SCDNR, The Longleaf Alliance, and MPJ Wildlife Partners they were able to relocate 32 birds from the Francis Marion National Forest over the last four years. This past year they finally reached their population goal and there is no longer a need to relocate more birds from the coast.

Mark Pavlosky Jr., a Red Cockaded Woodpecker biologist for MPJ Wildlife Partners, said, “are numbers are close to 45 adults that are here on a regular basis and then every year we monitor the breeding success and increase our numbers with juveniles”.

This time of year can get busy keeping up with new chicks. Pavlosky added, “we monitor when eggs are laid, when those eggs hatch, we age them and then come back at day 7 to day 8, remove them from the nest and put color bands on their legs”. Banding the birds doesn’t hurt them and they’re returned to the nest as soon as they’re weighed and have their DNA tested. “These color bands give them an individual identification so we can track their progress over time and how they move across the landscape”.

Another important part of their project in Hitchcock Woods is installing cavities for the birds to nest in. In the wild, it can take a bird 6 months to several years to carve out a nesting site inside of a tree but installing premade cavities into living trees gives them instant access to nesting sites for years to come. This practice became popular with restoration efforts after Hurricane Hugo hit the Carolina Coast in 1989. Tucker added, “I feel like we are in a good spot, and when we see the babies, and bobwhite quail, all the wildlife happy and healthy, we know we’re doing something right”.

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