Habitat quality and seasonal foraging patterns of red-cockaded woodpeckers in Virginia


Very little is known about the ecology of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers along the northern fringe of their geographic range. Basic information on habitat requirements is needed to effectively manage this species within a landscape that is quite different from that encountered within the core of its range. The objectives of this project were 1) to determine space requirements during the breeding and winter periods and 2) to determine substrate use during the breeding and winter periods.


Within the past 100 years Red-cockaded Woodpeckers have disappeared completely from the northern portion of their historic breeding range. As recently as the 1930s and 1940s resident birds were known from the open maritime forests of Maryland. Since the loss of habitat in Kentucky, Virginia has supported the only population north of the Carolinas. In Virginia, breeding has continued to the present time but the number of both sites and birds has declined dramatically over the past 40 years. As northern populations have declined there has been very little opportunity to collect information on the basic ecology of this species that is necessary for effective population management. Intensive fieldwork was conducted within 6 breeding clusters to examine seasonal patterns of space and substrate use. Birds were followed to make foraging observations for more than 1,100 hours over a 3-year period. Space use was compared to an inventory of habitat availability to examine characteristics that contribute to habitat use. Foraging ranges during the winter period were approximately twice as large as those during the breeding season. Older age class stands were used more than expected for foraging while young age class stands were used less than expected based on availability. Proximity of the stand to the colony site was a primary determinant of use particularly during the breeding season when birds were provisioning broods. Foraging birds selected large pines as foraging substrate disproportionate to their availability during both seasons but particularly during the winter period. Habitat management should produce and maintain older pines to meet foraging requirements and stands managed specifically as foraging habitat should be within 1 km of colony sites.

Years: 1980 – 1983

Status: Complete

CCB Staff: Dana Bradshaw, Mitchell Byrd

Project Contact: Mike Wilson mdwils@wm.edu (757) 221-1649