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Red-cockaded Woodpecker Leuconotopicus borealis
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
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This species has been downlisted from Vulnerable on the basis of recent information about its population size. It is listed as Near Threatened because it is estimated to have a moderately small population, which is precautionarily suspected to be in slow decline based on known threats and local trends.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Taxonomic note
Leuconotopicus borealis (del Hoyo and Collar 2014) was previously placed in the genus Picoides.

Picoides borealis (Vieillot, 1809)

22 cm. Rather small black-and-white woodpecker with longish bill. Above black barred white. Below white with black spots or streaks on flanks. Black crown, nape and moustachial stripe border white cheeks and side of neck. Male has a few tiny red feathers (usually hidden) on the side of crown. Juvenile duller black with variable extent of red on center of forehead, juvenile female with flecks of white on forehead, especially near the bill. Similar spp. Hairy Woodpecker P. villosus usually lacks "ladder-backed" appearance and white cheek patch. Voice Drumming infrequent and not loud. Distinctive shrrit call most commonly heard, also a rattle and wide range of social twittering and chortles. Hints Active nest and roost-trees have distinctive sap flows from small, shallow holes excavated above and below the cavity.

Distribution and population
Picoides borealis was originally distributed throughout the south-eastern USA; however from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, it declined rapidly due to the extensive alteration of mature pine forests (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2008). During the late 20th century it continued to decline, undergoing a large and statistically significant overall decrease since the mid-1960s (Butcher and Niven 2007), and declining by at least 23% between 1980 and 1990 (James 1995). In 1999, it was limited to c.30 isolated populations (the largest in South Carolina and Florida), totalling c.4,700 groups or c.11,000 individuals and occupying just 4,000 km2 (Jackson 1994, Guynn 1997, J. A. Jackson in litt. 1999). However, the most recent data suggest that the population now numbers over 10,000 mature individuals, with estimates of 15,150 adults in 2006 (Department of Defense and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in litt. 2006) and c.14,500 adults in 2008 (W. McDearman in litt. 2010), as estimated using different methods. The population may now be stable, and possibly increasing (Department of Defense/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in litt. 2006, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2008, W. McDearman in litt. 2010), but a slow overall decline is precautionarily suspected to be on-going, as local declines are known to be taking place. Its apparent recovery in many areas is the result of successful conservation efforts, including habitat management, nest-site provision and translocation of birds (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2008), whilst improved knowledge has been acquired thanks to intensive studies.

Population justification
The number of adults was recently estimated at 15,150 (Department of Defense and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in litt. 2006) and c.14,500 based on 2008 data (W. McDearman in litt. 2010), thus the population is placed in the band for 10,000-19,999 mature individuals, assumed to be equivalent to c.15,000-30,000 individuals in total.

Trend justification
This species has undergone a large and statistically significant overall decrease since the mid-1960s (-70.2% decline over 40 years, equating to a -26.1% decline per decade; data from Breeding Bird Survey and/or Christmas Bird Count [Butcher and Niven 2007]), and James (1995) calculated a 23% decline in the number of known sites (clusters of trees with signs of activity) between the early 1980s and 1990. However, some sub-populations are now stable or increasing as a result of intensive management (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2008, W. McDearman in litt. 2010). For example, between 1994 and 2002, populations increased by as much as 50% at six military installations (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2008). It has recently been confirmed that the species’s population has exceeded 10,000 mature individuals since at least 2000, and is provisionally estimated to have numbered c.14,500 mature individuals in 2008 (W. McDearman in litt. 2010). It is now thought that the population is stable and has been since 2003, and could be increasing overall, although some sub-populations are known to still be in decline and losing their viability (W. McDearman in litt. 2010). Until the situation is clarified, an on-going slow decline is precautionarily suspected.

It inhabits fire-sustained open pine-forest, dominated in half of its range by longleaf pine Pinus palustris and elsewhere by shortleaf P. echinata, slash P. elliotti, or loblolly P. taeda pines (J. A. Jackson in litt. 1999). It is a cooperative breeder, with each group requiring at least 80 ha of habitat. Nests are in cavities of living old-growth trees (100+ years old) and eggs are laid from late April to early June (Winkler et al. 1995). Foraging habitat preferences differ between the sexes and females are negatively influenced by the loss of old-growth trees (Jackson 2000). One study showed that adults were heavier, and both adults and nestlings apparently sourced more food in shortleaf and loblolly pine habitats than in longleaf pine forest (Schaefer et al. 2004).

Because of its biology and dependence on old-growth forest, this species is said to be uniquely susceptible to rapid declines under inappropriate management regimes (J. R. Walters in litt. 2013). The long-term clearance and economic management of habitat has reduced the viability of all populations. From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, the species decreased rapidly as mature pine forest was altered, primarily for timber harvest and agriculture (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2008). Longleaf pine communities in the south-eastern USA may have originally covered c.24-37 million ha, but today fewer than 1.2 million ha remain (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2008). The excessive cutting of old-growth forests is reported to still be taking place in some areas (J. A. Jackson in litt. 2012). Fragmentation has isolated nest-sites, making abandonment or group extirpation increasingly likely (Thomlinson 1995). Inbreeding depression has been highlighted as a potentially serious problem in small and isolated populations (Schiegg et al. 2006). Exempting landowners from the Endangered Species Act has resulted in rapid declines on private land (J. A. Jackson in litt. 1999). The translocation of birds to federal lands may swamp locally adapted gene pools (J. A. Jackson in litt. 1999). Southern pine beetle Dendroctonus frontalis infests cavities and kills nesting trees (Conner and Rudolph 1995) (although they have a positive effect on woodpecker foraging both as a food item, and by creating arthropod rich dead-wood habitat [Schaefer et al. 2004]). Beetle infestations have increased since habitat management for the woodpecker started in 1988, suggesting a possible connection (Conner and Rudolph 1995). Pileated Woodpeckers Dryocopus pileatus damage cavities (Saenz et al. 1998). Fire management (involving regular burning) has aided habitat restoration, but as human populations expand there is increasing pressure to suppress fires.

Conservation Actions Underway
The emphasis has been on site-specific rather than ecosystem-level management (J. A. Jackson in litt. 1999). Intensive activities include translocating young females from natal sites to groups lacking a female, constructing artificial cavities (Jackson 1994), and fitting restrictor plates to prevent D. pileatus enlarging cavities (Saenz et al. 1998). Habitat is managed (regular burning and understorey clearance) on some federal lands, but not always appropriately (Jackson 1994). In South Carolina the "Safe Harbor" scheme offers financial incentives to private landowners who undertake beneficial management prescriptions (Duncan et al. 2001). Local population increases have been dependent on intensive management, and it is not clear if such management ceased that habitat improvements are yet sufficient to support continued population increases without the additional intensive management (J. R. Walters in litt. 2013).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor populations, especially where managed. Implement ecosystem-level management (James 1995). Provide incentives for landowners to maintain/enhance habitat (Kennedy et al. 1996, Bonnie 1997). Fit restrictor plates only where cavities are scarce (Saenz et al. 1998). Document and monitor translocations (J. A. Jackson in litt. 1999). Replace even-aged forest management with selective or no cutting (J. A. Jackson in litt. 1999). Establish habitat corridors (e.g. along highways) (Jackson 1994).

Bonnie, R. 1997. Strategies for conservation of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker on private lands. Endangered Species Update 14(7-8): 45-47.

Butcher, G. S.; Niven, D. K. 2007. Combining data from the Christmas bird count and the breeding bird survey to determine the continental status and trends of North American birds.

Collar, N. J.; Gonzaga, L. P.; Krabbe, N.; Madroño Nieto, A.; Naranjo, L. G.; Parker, T. A.; Wege, D. C. 1992. Threatened birds of the Americas: the ICBP/IUCN Red Data Book. International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, U.K.

Conner, R. N.; Rudolph, D. C. 1995. Losses of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers cavity trees to southern pine beetles. Wilson Bulletin 107: 81-92.

Conner, R. N.; Saenz, D.; Schaefer, R. R.; McCormick, J. R.; Rudolph, D. C.; Burt, D. B. 2005. Rainfall, El Niño, and reproduction of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Southeastern Naturalist 4: 347-354.

Duncan, L.; Andrews, L.; Costa, R.; Lohr, S. 2001. A safe harbor for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Endangered Species Bulletin 26: 16-18.

Guynn, D. 1997. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Bird Watcher's Digest 20: 60-65.

Jackson, J. A. 1994. Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis). In: Poole, A.; Gill, F. (ed.), The birds of North America, No. 85, pp. 1-20. The Academy of Natural Sciences, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.

Jackson, J. A. 2000. Red-cockaded Woodpecker. In: Reading, R.P.; Miller, B. (ed.), Endangered animals: a reference guide to conflicting issues, pp. 241-246. Greenwood Press, London.

James, F. C. 1995. The status of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker in 1990 and the prospect for recovery. In: Kulhary, D.L.; Hooper, R.G.; Costa, R. (ed.), Red-cockaded Woodpecker: recovery, ecology and management, pp. 439-451. Center for Applied Studies in Forestry Publication, College of Forestry, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacodgdoches, Texas.

Kennedy, E. T.; Costa, R.; Smathers, W. M. 1996. Economic incentives: new directions for Red-cockaded Woodpecker habitat conservation. Journal of Forestry 94: 22-26.

Saenz, D.; Conner, R. N.; Shackleford, C. E.; Rudolph, D. C. 1998. Pileated Woodpecker damage to Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavity trees in eastern Texas. Wilson Bulletin 110: 362-367.

Schaefer, R. R.; Conner, R.N.; Rudolph, D. G.; Saenz, D. 2004. Red-cockaded Woodpecker nestling provisioning and reproduction in two different pine habitats. Wilson Bulletin 116: 31-40.

Schiegg, K.; Pasinelli, G.; Walters, J. R.; Daniels, S. J. 2002. Inbreeding and experience affect response to climate change by endangered woodpeckers. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B 269: 1153-1159.

Schiegg, K..; Daniels, S.J.; Walters, J. R.; Priddy, J. A.; Pasinelli, G. 2006. Inbreeding in Red-cockaded Woodpeckers: effects of natal dispersal distance and territory location. Biological Conservation 131: 544-552.

Thomlinson, J. R. 1995. Landscape characteristics associated with active and abandoned Red-cockaded Woodpecker clusters in east Texas. Wilson Bulletin 107: 603-614.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2008. Red-cockaded Woodpecker Fact Sheet. Available at: #

Winkler, H.; Christie, D. A.; Nurney, D. 1995. Woodpeckers: a guide to the woodpeckers, piculets and wrynecks of the world. Pica Press, Robertsbridge, U.K.

Further web sources of information
Audubon WatchList

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Revised Recovery Plan

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Calvert, R., Isherwood, I., Taylor, J. & Wege, D.

Jackson, J. & McDearman, W.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Leuconotopicus borealis. Downloaded from on 25/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 25/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Picidae (Woodpeckers)
Species name author (Vieillot, 1809)
Population size 10000-19999 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 604,000 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species