GCBO Bird of the Month
Red-cockaded Woodpecker
by Mike Williams

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker, (Dryobates borealis/Picoides borealis/Leuconotopicus boralis), was first described in 1807 by Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot, a French ornithologist, in South Carolina. Its classification, and indeed that of many woodpeckers, is under debate as to whether there is a relationship between the woodpeckers of the old and the new world, or whether they simply evolved in parallel (hence the 3 scientific names given above). The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is considered monotypic although some suggest those in the very far South East of the US are a separate subspecies based on a smaller size.

Its population is currently confined to small pockets within SE Texas, Oklahoma, and the Atlantic coast through Kentucky, Virginia, Louisiana and Florida. It is non migratory and confined to this small area.
It is found in southeast US longleaf pine forests/savannas and prefers old growth trees to breed in due to their high numbers of insects.

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker's diet is 80 % insect and arthropod based, but they will eat fruit and berries. Interestingly, males tend to feed higher in the trees than females.

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers nest in cavities in live pine trees lined with woodchips. This unique nesting behavior allows them to drill sap holes around the nest cavity to release sap which acts as a deterrent for predators, notably snakes. The nest is built by the male, and usually some non-breeding male helpers, and is usually 12-70’ high. 2-5 white eggs are laid and are incubated for 12-15 days by both parents. Once hatched the whole family group feeds the chicks.


Medium sized, black and white woodpecker with a long tail. The clear white cheek patch is a definitive identification mark. The cap and back of the neck are black with the rest of the head being white but for a black malar/lower cheek stripe. The upperparts are black and white with a black tail. The underparts are predominantly white with black spotting. The name is rather “misleading”, although the male has a red tuft behind the eye towards the back of the head, this is very hard to see in the field. Flight is typically undulating with a few wing flaps and then a short glide.

It's call is a "yank-yank" with some high pitched "tsicks" similar to a nuthatch.

Interesting Facts:
·        The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a US endemic species
·        Is the only woodpecker to bore a nest-hole in a live tree.
·   A group of woodpeckers is known a descent, drumming, or gatling
·     In the past, deemed as vulnerable due to habitat loss, it has now been downgraded to near threatened. It is estimated there are 30,000 individuals today.
To download Mike Williams's photo of this cool bird, click HERE

To donate to us and our conservation work, click HERE