After being on the endangered species list for several decades, the American bald eagle was taken off the list in 2007. Wildlife biologists, such as Jonny Fryer from the Kisatchie National Forest, have hope that the same can happen for the red cockaded woodpecker.


After being on the endangered species list for several decades, the American bald eagle was taken off the list in 2007. Wildlife biologists, such as Jonny Fryer from the Kisatchie National Forest, have hope that the same can happen for the red cockaded woodpecker.
Friday morning at the Vernon Unit recovery population of the Calcasieu Ranger District—Kisatchie National Forest, Fryer, along with Ashley Alost, a wildlife technician, tagged three seven-day-old red-cockaded woodpeckers in order to manage and conserve this species.  
The chicks were tagged with a Wildlife and Fisheries band as well as a unique combination of color coded bands. Alost said that by banding the chicks, they will be able to tell which ones are the juveniles, male or female, and it will also help when translocating them to a different population, since the Vernon Unit is a donor population.
Alost climbed one of the active tress and pulled the chicks out using a plastic tube with fishing wire, like a noose. Fryer said they have been using this method for many years and that it is safe and effective. After placing two bands on each chick, they were placed back in their nest unharmed.
Since it is nesting season, Fryer said they will be spending much of their time checking on the birds because each are valuable, since there are only two to three chicks per cluster.
"You can count on maybe half of those surviving and becoming adults," he said.
A cluster is made up of a male breeder, female breeder, the chicks and the helper male, or, as Fryer explained, the "teenager," who sticks around in case he is needed. The parents usually stay in the same nest their entire lives, Fryer said, but the young females get "kicked out" and have to find their own cluster. Fryer also added that if the male dies, the helper will inherit the cluster.
Since it can take the woodpeckers over a year to make their nest, or cavity, Fryer said they create artificial cavities and insert a man-made nest into the pine trees.
"We cut out a square block, not a natural block that they made, but an insert," he said. "So it's sort of like a mobile home."
The goal is for this species to increase about five to 10 percent a year, Fryer said, which they have been seeing the past couple of years. Fryer said that with 180 active clusters at this unit, the population is "much better" than it was 20 years ago. He also said they have been managing this bird ever since the recovery program began in the early 1980s, and have been trying to bring the population back up to where they can take them off of the list, but that they are still looking at probably 30 to 40 more years.
The decline in population is attributed to the deforestation of longleaf pine forests, which the woodpecker depends on for nesting and roosting.
"This bird became endangered in the early 1900s because they cleared a lot of this land that used to be longleaf pine," Fryer said. "They became endangered because of a loss of habitat."
When all the habitat was removed, Fryer said, the woodpecker was unable to adapt.
The Vernon Unit is also undergoing a longleaf restoration initiative process to try and restore about four million acres in Louisiana where this type of forest remains. Fryer said the largest longleaf forest is between Louisiana and Texas, and that it is the most diverse ecosystem besides the rain forest. Every two to three years, they do prescribed burnings to help maintain an open forest that RCW prefer.  
On the Calcasieu district, Fryer said there are about 300 active clusters and 500 active clusters across the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana. Fryer said the Vernon Unit population is the seventh largest in the nation for red cockaded woodpeckers. This species can be found all along the southeastern part of the country, with the largest populations being in Florida and South Carolina, Fryer said.
Besides the decline of longleaf pine forests, snakes, hawks and owls are a threat to this species. Out of the other seven species of woodpeckers found in the southeast, red cockaded woodpeckers have a distinct black and white barred back and a white cheek patch. They are also small birds, measuring about seven inches in length.