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A pair of red-cockaded woodpeckers were relocated March 21 from Myrtle Beach to Fort Jackson.

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Normally, fall is the appropriate time of the year for capturing and moving red-cockaded woodpeckers, or RCWs. However, circumstances sometime dictate that procedures be modified to accommodate and protect these endangered birds. Such was the case last month for the translocation of a pair of RCWs from Myrtle Beach to Fort Jackson.

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service had worked for several years with the property owners and their environmental consultants, Dr. J. H. Carter III & Associates, on plans to capture an
relocate RCWs from lands slated for development along U. S. Highway 17.

In this case, the environmental consultants had improved an RCW habitat on South Carolina Department of Natural Resources' 9,600 acre Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve in Horry County and established three new RCW breeding pairs. This improved habitat and the establishment of new breeding pairs allowed the property owners to proceed with developing the Myrtle Beach property.

In addition, the pair of RCWs on the Myrtle Beach property could be translocated to a recipient property in the state, where RCWs were already established and suitable habitat existed. That recipient property, as selected by the USFWS, was Fort Jackson.

"We have sites on the installation called recruitment clusters where artificial cavities have been installed in 80-year old pine trees that replicate cavities RCWs naturally excavate," said Nicole Hawkins, wildlife biologist with the Directorate of Public Works. "In addition, 200 acres of land surrounding these recruitment sites have been improved through prescribed burning, cutting of undesirable hardwood vegetation, and other land management activities. A pair of RCWs and their offspring typically require 200 acres of managed pine habitat to survive."

In mid-March, Hawkins received an inquiry from the USFWS if Fort Jackson had a recruitment cluster and suitable habitat ready to receive a pair of RCWs from Myrtle Beach. The answer was yes, and plans immediately began for the capture and translocation.

The translocation took place on the evening of March 21 the property along U. S. Highway 17 in Myrtle Beach. The pair of RCWs was observed as they entered their roost cavities for the night. At dusk, biologists used a specially designed mesh net on a telescopic pole to capture each of the birds. Once in hand, the birds were positively identified by their uniquely numbered aluminum USFWS leg band as well as the plastic colored bands attached to the birds' legs.

Jan Goodson, a biologist with Dr. J. H. Carter III & Associates, identified the RCWs as a 2-year old female banded as a nestling in 2011 and a 3-year old male banded as a nestling in 2010. Both birds were placed in enclosed wooden translocation boxes and driven from Myrtle Beach to Fort Jackson.

Shortly after midnight on March 22, Fort Jackson biologists climbed two longleaf pines on the installation, which were provisioned with artificial cavities. Each RCW was placed in its respective cavity, and a wire screen was secured over the cavity entrance to retain the bird overnight. A nylon cord was tied to the screens and lowered to the ground for use in releasing the birds at sunrise.

Right after sunrise the next morning, both RCWs began actively pecking at the screens. Fort Jackson natural resources technicians Josh Arrants and Caleb Gaston pulled the nylon cords simultaneously and released the pair. The female exited immediately, followed by the male about 30 seconds later. Both birds grouped on a pine tree and began vocalizing, which is an excellent sign these birds are pair bonded.

"This was a well-planned and implemented capture and relocation of RCWs from a property slated for development to an installation that takes pride in managing their endangered species," Goodson said. "Hopefully, this pair will nest this spring and produce fledglings, thereby increasing the number of RCWs that reside on the installation."

Page last updated Fri April 5th, 2013 at 00:00