Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker...A Rare Encounter

Fresh from our exciting encounter with the red-headed woodpeckers, Hoot Owl Karma headed into the wild for a late afternoon hike in the Croatan National Forest. Croatan offers a glimpse into North Carolina's wilderness past with its relatively large stands of mature longleaf pines. This unique ecosystem is home to the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker which builds its nests exclusively in living longleaf pine trees.

 This stand of pines had recently experienced a wildfire, giving us a firsthand look at the role fire plays in maintaining the health of the longleaf pine ecosystem. Periodic fires keep the understory open and eliminate competition from less fire-resistant trees which might otherwise out-compete the young pines.

Within moments of entering the forest, we spy evidence of the rare woodpecker. A nest cavity, excavated from a large living longleaf, oozing copious amounts of sticky sap. 

The fresh flowing sap helps protect the nest from predators such as the black rat snake which might raid the nest for its eggs or nestlings.

We spot several other nest cavities, but see no sign of their makers until the sun has nearly dropped behind the tree-line. Suddenly Julie and Hunter call to us in hushed tones. They've spotted a bird pecking at the bark high up on the sunny side of a young longleaf. Could it be...?

Yes, without a doubt, our first encounter with the rare red-cockaded woodpecker! This one sports a blue band on its leg, evidence perhaps of monitoring efforts to help ensure the health of this population. And, it is not alone. 

We spot another, and then another,

then two individuals together on opposite sides of the same trunk, moving upwards in tandem. It appears that we are in the midst of a family group of some six or eight birds, foraging together in the waning daylight. 

For a brief, brief moment, time ceases. 

This place, and those that share it, the birds and the humans, transcend their temporal bonds and experience life like the birds and humans who shared this very forest for thousands of years before our arrival here. 

A precious moment...


  1. I never thought I would become a bird watcher but this year I am hooked. Bald Eagle, Osprey, Heron, Geese, and now Otters are keeping us busy.
    I have a question.
    We use to have plenty of the Red-winged Black Birds that nested around the pond. I have not seen one for awhile now. Any thoughts of why they are no longer here?

  2. Good question, Meredith. Do you recall seeing them last summer? You have an ideal habitat with the pond, willow trees, nearby woods and agricultural fields...It may just be that they haven't returned from their winter travels yet. They are very cool birds, and amazing nest makers; here's hoping they show up soon!