Fort Stewart U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service professionals captured 10 red-cockaded woodpeckers at Fort Stewart, Georgia, Oct. 23, 2019 in a translocation effort engineered to assist the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida in growing the population of the species in that area.
The red-cockaded woodpecker fell onto the Endangered Species Act of 1973 due to habitat loss in the southeast US and the lack of pine trees to create nests. Ideally, for red-cockhaded woodpeckers to thrive in an area, trees need to be about 70-80 years old, and the surrounding area needs to be open.
Larry Carlile, chief of the FWS branch at Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, who has been working with the agency since 1994, said, when he started there were about 150 potential breeding groups at Fort Stewart. This past season, he said there were about 550 potential breeding groups.
"Fort Stewart has done so well because it is a large installation with plenty of room to grow birds," said Carlile. "That has all been primarily due to all the prescribed burning along the pine forest. It's due to the artificial cavities we placed."
Carlile said that artificial cavities are made up of PVC pipes, western red cedar plants, plywood and perforated steel to keep other birds out. Then they add putty and paint to make it resemble the home of a red-cockaded woodpecker.
During nesting season, FWS members caught and tagged the birds with leg bands. Then they came back at a later time to determine the gender and colors of the woodpeckers. Based on that, they knew where the birds lived and could track how old they were and if they were ready to be moved.
To capture the birds, FWS members waited until sunset when the birds went back to their artificial cavities to roost. From there, they got a net and gently placed it over the cavity opening for the bird to fly into. Once the bird was in the net, they brought it down, verified the number on the leg band and placed the bird in a small box with secured screens on each side to ensure the bird's safety. Then they drove the birds to St. Marks overnight so they could be set free the next morning.
Joe Reinman, a supervisory wildlife biologist with the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Tallahassee, Florida, said he has been at St. Marks NWR for 40 years. His refuge has a high priority for endangered animals like the red-cockaded woodpecker.
"In 1982, we were down to three male red-cockaded woodpeckers with no females," said Reinman. "I started doing relocation of the birds from paper company lands and got a female to stick and she started raising a family there. It progressed slowly from there. Now we have about 30 groups there. About 50 percent of the birds we relocate do stay and stay around for the next breeding season, so it has been very successful."
Carlile said they plan to continue gathering birds in groups of 10 for about three times each fall season. He also said they will continue to relocate red-cockaded woodpeckers throughout the southeast until the species comes off the endangered species list.