Red cockaded woodpecker

Red cockaded woodpecker identification – color, markings, features

Female red cockaded woodpecker

  • Large white patch on side of face (cheek)
  • Black crown and nape, whitish underparts
  • Black back and wings with white bars and spotting
  • Male has small red mark on upper cheek (hard to see)
  • Female has no red
  • similar to Hairy woodpecker


Red cockaded woodpecker size

  • about 8 inches
  • bill is about 1 inch
  • wingspan about 16 inches
  • weight about 2.5-3.25 ounces

Red cockaded woodpecker range

Red cockaded woodpecker range map

  • Southeastern United States (North Carolina west to eastern Texas, and south down to central Florida)



Red cockaded woodpecker endangered?

  • This species has been endangered in the U.S. since 1970
  • the population of red cockaded woodpeckers is severely declining
  • total population across its’ range is estimated at about 7400 birds

Red cockaded woodpecker conservation efforts

Some state agencies (namely the FWC – Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission) have been very active with conservation efforts for these endangered red cockaded woodpeckers. Conservation efforts include:

  1. creation and placement of artificial nesting boxes in pine trees to assist with red cockaded breeding. These efforts have been very successful for increasing the populations of these woodpeckers in specific areas like the Blackwater National Forest. The way this is done is very interesting and fascinating. What the FWC does is they actually cut out a small section (typically about 10″ x 16″) about 20 feet high in the side of a large living pine tree and then place and affix the artificial nesting box into the cut out section of the tree. The artificial nesting boxes are placed in trees where red cockaded’s have been observed, and there are a lack of suitable nesting trees, to assist in the woodpeckers breeding and re-population. In many cases, the woodpeckers have adapted to, and have used the artificial nesting boxes, and their numbers have increased.
  2. reintroduction of red cockaded’s into areas of the state where they had completely vanished or their numbers had drastically decreased.

Will red cockaded woodpeckers come to a feeder?

No, red cockaded woodpeckers are not known to accept supplemental feeding and therefore are not likely to come to a feeder.  Read this article How to attract woodpeckers for more information.

Red cockaded woodpecker facts

Red cockaded woodpecker factsWhat do red cockaded woodpeckers eat

To learn details about their feeding habits and what they like to eat read Red cockaded woodpecker diet


Red cockaded woodpecker habitat

Red cockaded’s inhabit old growth mature pine forests of the southeastern United States and do not live in any other type of habitat. Because of logging, past forestry practices, and intense human expansion over the past few decades, much of the mature pine forest habitat across this region has been severely compromised and lost. Because of this, numbers of red cockaded’s have drastically declined and they have been endangered since the mid 1970′s, with their total population in the U.S. plummeting to less than 7500 birds. One might wonder why this woodpeckers future existence is in such serious trouble, since new pine forest habitat is constantly being replenished thru replanting of new trees after harvesting the old ones. The reason is because of the red cockaded’s peculiar and unique nesting habits. Read about the red cockaded’s nesting and breeding characteristics in the following paragraph.

Red cockaded woodpecker nest – breeding, mating, and nesting

Red cockaded’s have a very peculiar and unique nesting practice. They are the only woodpeckers of North America that will only build their nests in living pine trees. And, they require a specific type of living pine tree in which to build their nest. The pine tree must be an old growth tree (generally over 60 years old) that has core (heartwood) rot. The core rot is needed in order for them to drill and excavate their nest cavity. Their peculiar and unique requirements for specific nesting trees (combined with the fact that many old growth mature pine forests have been harvested and lost) is the main reason why their future is so uncertain. Nest holes and cavities are excavated by both male and female (along with young family members of previous broods). Family groups will excavate a number of different holes and cavities in their home territory (it may take over 2 years to excavate a single cavity). Red cockaded’s are known for using the same nest cavity (or cavities) year after year. The entrance hole to the nest is normally about one and one half inches in diameter, the depth about 12 to 18 inches, and the hole is cylinder shaped so that the bottom of the hole is big enough for eggs and incubation. The bottom of the nest is unlined and may contain just a few wood chips and shavings left over from excavation of the hole. Red cockaded’s breed only once a year. They typically do so in mid to late spring. They typically lay between 2 and 5 solid white colored eggs, which measure about .7 inch by .9 inch. Egg incubation is about 12 days and the nesting period is normally complete after about 26 days.

Red cockaded woodpecker call and sounds

Both male and female red cockaded’s use harsh raspy ‘chirp’ calls for communication and locating each other. Both sexes ‘drum’ softly on branches and the sides of trees in short bursts. Overall, they are not very vocal, and certainly are heard far less frequently than other woodpecker species.

Other noted behavioral traits of Red cockaded woodpeckers

red cockaded woodpecker nest holeThe only species of North American woodpeckers to build nests in live pine trees. They drill multiple rows of small pilot holes all around their nesting tree and about a foot or two above their nesting hole. These pilot holes leak and bleed pine sap down the tree, which protect the nest from tree climbing predators like snakes, raccoons, and opossums. To the observant eye, red cockaded nesting sites are fairly easy to spot because the bleeding pine sap around their nesting holes can extend down the sides of the tree up to 20 feet or more, and creates a silvery and shiny color on the normally brownish tree bark. Another unusual behavioral trait of these woodpeckers is the fact that they live in family groups. A family group consists of an adult male and female breeding pair, and ‘helpers’, which are offspring of the breeding pair from previous years. ‘Helpers’ contribute in nest excavation and feeding of nestlings, and normally stay with the adults for up to three years or more.

Similar woodpecker species

Red cockaded woodpeckers share ranges and habitats with the following woodpeckers of North America:


Pileated woodpecker