Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Proposed Down-listing of Red-cockaded Woodpecker

A Red-cockaded Woodpecker at a well-used cavity insert in a longleaf pine tree.

For the decades, the US Forest Service in partnership with more than 30 public and private groups, has focused on bringing back the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers’ preferred habitat –

longleaf pine forests, through such projects as the America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative and the Million Acre Challenge. More than 1.3 million acres of new longleaf pine stands have been established and many hundreds of cavity inserts have been installed in these younger longleaf pine landscapes to help the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers’ recovery.

Now, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking input from the public on down-listing the species from endangered to threatened status. Although the proposal represents a milestone for this rare species of woodpecker, continuing conservation efforts may eventually warrant removing the Red-cockaded Woodpecker from the endangered species list altogether. Since conducting the present status assessment for the rare woodpecker, the Service has heard from more than two dozen partners who have been actively conserving habitat for the bird’s recovery, and those partners have committed to continuing their conservation activities on behalf of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in the future.

Once abundant from New Jersey to Florida, west to Texas and north to Missouri, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker’s range was reduced to just a handful of states by the 1960s following more than a century of habitat destruction. During the late 1970s, there was an all-time low of an estimated 1,470 clusters of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Clusters are made up of a nesting pair of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and “helpers,” usually males from previous broods that assist with incubating and feeding nestlings and fledglings. Today, the US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates nearly 7,800 clusters across 11 states from southern Virginia to east Texas.

The Service is also proposing a special rule for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act that will tailor protections needed for the species’ recovery. The rule would prohibit incidental take associated with actions that would result in the further loss or degradation of woodpecker habitat. This includes impacts to cavity trees, actions that would affect Red-cockaded Woodpeckers during the nesting season, and the use of insecticides near groups of cavity trees used by Red-cockaded Woodpeckers for nesting and roosting.

The proposal to change the status of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker from endangered to threatened will be published in the Federal Register, opening a 60-day public comment period. The proposed rule and supporting documents, including the species status assessment report and references cited, are available online at under Docket Number FWS–R4–ES–2019–0018.

To review the entire US Fish and Wildlife Service news release, please refer to