The Stubborn Red-cockaded Woodpecker
I just recently saw a really cool new lifer, the endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. We found this bird in a forest containing strictly Longleaf Pine trees(with a few Slash and Loblolly Pines) maintained by perscribed, man-made forest fires. These fires are essential to the birds joy because they rely on the fires to take down any hardwood tree competition that this species of bird does not like. The hardwood trees will burn easily with fire, but the Longleaf Pines have much thicker bark that shields them from the flames. These fires are also key to maintain much of plant life as some plants like Palmetto and Wire Grass will only grow berries after a fire. Without fire to wipeout the grass and expose the ground every now and then, another bird that nests frequently in those woods, the Bachman’s Sparrow, would move away as well because they like open ground to hop around on.
This species of woodpecker nests in cavities that they usually hollow out themselves, but humans have helped them greatly by taking the initiative and installing bird houses in man-made cavities in reasonable nesting trees for the woodpeckers. Many woodpeckers will enjoy and stick to one cavity for anywhere from 10 to 20 years straight.
Besides humans, another big threat to the existence of this species is predators. Some squirrels will scurry up trees and eat the young, but at least in this forest, snakes are a bigger threat. Many people don’t believe that snakes can climb trees, but some species have the capability to grasp onto the bark and dart right up the tree and into the woodpecker nest. The Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers, however, have adapted to this threat. They will peck into the tree around their cavity to extract the tree sap. They will let this sap run down the tree and just sit there. The snakes skin becomes irritated when it comes in contact with a chemical in this sap, so I think it’s safe to say that the woodpeckers won this battle! There is one thing that puzzles me about why this system works. Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers, another type of woodpecker-like bird, frequent those same woods and consume, as the name suggests, tree sap and the insects trapped in it. Traces of these birds are found on many trees. Just look for a horizontal row of holes all across the trunk or branch and you know that a sapsucker has been there. I do not undertand why it is that the Sapsuckers expend so much time and effort just to eat when loads of food is just drooling down the sides of trees! If I were a Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, I would wonder why my strategic sap trick works against snakes when there are so many sapsuckers around that should be eating up my barrier!