Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Picoides borealis
This species has been listed as endangered since 1968, mainly as a result of the
reduction and fragmentation of its habitat, southeastern pine forests subject to
frequent summer fires. I saw and photographed these birds in a long-leaf pine
savannah habitat that is managed to promote the survival and growth of this fragile
species; that is why these birds are all banded to permit individual identification. In
the same grove of pines I also saw and photographed Bachman's Sparrows for the first
time; these two species, both highly valued by birders, are often found together.
The Red-cockaded are readily distinguished from all other North American woodpeckers
by their large solid white cheek patch.
The species gets its common name from the small strips of red feathering
seen at the edge of the black cap of the male just above the white cheeks.
Though these "cockades" show clearly in the two photos above, the species
account in Birds of North America Online reports that they are "rarely
visible on adults in the wild," usually being hidden by the black cap, so I
count myself lucky to have been able to see and photograph them.
I saw and photographed first one male, then two more Red-cockaded woodpeckers, as they foraged together in a grove of pines north of the entrance kiosk on Road 16 into Three Lakes WMA in southern Osceola County, Florida. This species is distinguished by an unusual breeding pattern in which a pair is often aided in raising its young by between one and three offspring, usually males, from the previous nesting season. Red-cockadeds are also unusual among woodpecker species by their nesting habits; they excavate nest cavities only in living pine trees suffering from a disease that softens the interior wood, facilitating excavation. The sap that oozes around the cavity serves as a sticky barrier protecting the nest against predators, especially snakes.
Because the red cockades are often concealed, the two birds in the photos above and below may be the female and a young helper in the family group, but also may include the male shown in the top two photographs, which has a metal band on its left leg, and so could be the bird on the right in these two photos. I definitely saw three birds in the group, but don't know whether I've captured all or only two of them here.