Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

Sunset at Flatside Pinnacle in the Ouachita National Forest
Sunset at Flatside Pinnacle in the Ouachita National Forest

Approximately the size of a Northern Cardinal, the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers have black and white horizontal stripes on their backs. Its cheeks and under parts are white. Both males and females have a black-capped head, but only males have the small red streaks of red feathers - known as cockades - towards the back of and on either side of the cap. These cockades are so small they are rarely visible in the field. Insects are the bird's primary food source, though it supplements its diet with seasonal wild fruit.

Since 1970, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers have been listed as an endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates between 10,000 and 12,000 remain, fragmented into isolated populations in the pine forests of southern states from Texas and Oklahoma eastward to the Atlantic Ocean.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker roost and nest cavities are found in live shortleaf, loblolly, or other southern species of pine trees more than 60 years old. It is partial to trees infected with a fungus known as red-heart disease that softens the wood and thereby eases the bird's excavation of cavities.

They keep pine sap flowing at the entrance of active nesting cavities apparently as a defense against predators. Their decline is attributed primarily to the reduction of pine trees of sufficient age for nesting, and to fire suppression; which results in the encroachment of mid-story vegetation growing in the open, park-like forests in which the bird prefers to nest.

Habitat of the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker in Arkansas

The largest population of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in Arkansas can be found in the Ouachita National Forest near Waldron in Scott County. Because roost and nest sites can change from year to year, birders are encouraged to stop by the U.S. Forest Service district visitor center located at the intersection of US 71 and Ark. 248 West in Waldron to consult with district staff regarding preferred locations for viewing the birds.

Other opportunities for seeing Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in Arkansas are on the 65,000-acre Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge near the state's southern border. Because nesting sites can change from year to year, birders are encouraged to stop by the refuge visitor center, located on US 82 between El Dorado and Crossett, and consult with refuge staff regarding current locations to view the birds.