Federal biologists are planning to reintroduce the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker to southeastern Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in October, returning the species to a location where it was last seen in 1974.
The woodpecker numbers about 15,000 birds today, less than one percent of the 1.5 million birds that roamed the Southeast in Audubon’s day. The birds live in 6,000 breeding groups in 11 states.
Virginia’s only existing group — and the northernmost breeding population overall — occurs about 45 miles northwest of the Great Dismal Swamp, at the Nature Conservancy’s Piney Grove Preserve. Its population has more than tripled since 2001: from 21 birds to 67 in 2014.
The plan is to trap 10 woodpeckers — five males and five females — probably from a breeding site in North Carolina. Biologists will clamber up tall trees to collect them and then drive them to the refuge, stopping to feed them hourly.
At Great Dismal Swamp, they will climb trees again to place pairs in pre-dug artificial cavities. Then they will place a screen over each cavity to keep the birds together overnight and will remove the screens the next morning.
Hopes are high that the birds accept their new home. The 112,000-acre refuge contains lots of mature native pine forest, the woodpecker’s preferred habitat, including about 2,000 acres of pocosin pines and a deep-soiled evergreen marsh that supports longleaf pines. Three previous endeavors to restart colonies — in Arkansas, Florida, and Mississippi — have all been successful. — Matt Mendenhall, Managing EditorOriginally Published