Endangered Bird Species on the Road to Recovery

Most people may not know much about the red cockaded woodpecker. Even if they have been fortunate enough to see one, they probably won’t know that these special little birds are a federally endangered species. In fact, the bird was declared endangered in 1970 and currently has the same endangered status as the much better known bald eagle and whooping crane.

Recent management efforts in the Southeast and in Jones County have resulted in significant increases in the population of these endangered birds in recent years. According to Jason Noldem, a District Wildlife Biologist acting with the Chickasawhay Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service as well as a number of other volunteers and staff members, a program specifically targeted at increasing the numbers of these birds in the area is having considerable success. The Chickasawhay Wildlife Management Area sees the protection of 150 000 acres in which the bird population has risen from 35 birds in 2003 to 103 earlier this year.

According to Nolde, in the 11-state population area there are approximately 6000 birds – just a fraction of what the bird population used to be. The population in the Chickasawhay Wildlife Management Area consists of just 42 active groups. These groups may consist of a simple mating pair (just a male and female) or it may be a pair with up to four helper birds. The helper birds assist in feeding, foraging, incubation and territory defence. Nolde said that the birds currently defend a territory of about 100-500 acres in size, but indicated that if the quality of the habitat improved, these territories would likely become smaller.

The red cockaded woodpecker was once a very common bird that was widespread in the pine forests of the Southeast. It seems that habitat destruction is the main cause of the bird’s decline, since they live in the cavities of mature pine trees that have been cut down and ravaged over the years. Part of efforts to boost their numbers has focused mainly on helping the birds defend their nests from predators or competitors such as squirrels and bluebirds. 300 artificial nesting boxes have also been inserted into cavities to create more habitable spaces for nesting. Clearly the efforts over the course of the past few years are paying off and if the trend continues, this precious bird species may well be saved from extinction.