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Endangered woodpeckers caught, driven to new homes

Associated Press Modified: October 19, 2012 at 7:31 am •  Published: October 19, 2012

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — It's autumn, the season to carry endangered woodpeckers to new territory.

More than 80 pairs of juvenile red cockaded woodpeckers are being moved from big groups in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas forests to bolster small groups in those states and in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.

In Louisiana, eight pairs were moved Monday from the Kisatchie National Forest — four to the Warren Prairie Natural Area in south-central Arkansas, and four elsewhere in the Kisatchie.

Thursday night, biologists in the forest's southwestern Calcasieu Ranger District caught seven more pairs of the 5- to 7-inch-long black-and-white birds, which are named for a few tiny red feathers on their heads. All 14 birds were destined for the more northerly Winn Ranger District, said Steve Shively, the Calcasieu district's head biologist.

At their new homes, males and females are put into neighboring man-made woodpecker holes. Artificial holes are needed because few longleaf pines are old enough to have heartwood softened by a fungus, allowing easier excavation by the cardinal-sized woodpeckers.

The nest boxes, set into tree trunks 22.5 feet off the ground, have fronts armored with steel and entry holes lined with PVC pipe to keep other kinds of woodpeckers from making the entryways too big for the intended occupants, Shively said.

This year, biologists plan to move 83 pairs, about the number moved in each of the past several years, said Will McDearman of Jackson, Miss., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in charge of the species recovery plan. There aren't enough young birds to go around, so most small groups get outside additions every other year, he said. Once an area has 30 breeding pairs, it's on its own.

The birds' preferred habitat is longleaf pine, which once covered 90 million acres from Texas to Virginia. Logging left fewer than 3 million acres, in fragmented chunks. Without enough good habitat, the birds went on the endangered list in 1970.

They've been found nesting in cavities as low as 12 feet and as high as 50 feet from the ground. They drill holes around the tree so sap will leak out, making the trunk too sticky or slick for rat snakes, their biggest predator.

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