Red-cockaded woodpecker population monitoring and management in Virginia (1975 – present)

OBJECTIVES:

The Virginia population of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers has been in eminent danger of extinction due to limited population size and a restricted distribution and requires an intensive monitoring and management program. Our primary objectives in this project are 1) to determine the number and identity of all birds resident within the Piney Grove Preserve, 2) to monitor breeding activity to document productivity and allow for banding of all individuals, and 3) to learn more about the ecology of this endangered species in the northern portion of its range.


PROJECT DESCRIPTION

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a federally endangered species that specializes on old-growth pine forests. This species excavates cavities within live mature (80+ years) pine trees and requires pine stands with open park-like understories. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in southeastern Virginia currently represent the northernmost population known and have been in eminent danger of extirpation since the 1980s. The population suffered a dramatic decline in the latter half of the 20th century. Of 60 active clusters identified after 1975, only 2 potential breeding groups remained by 2002. A survey of lands within the historic range in 1998 revealed that the short-term potential for restoration is limited due to the lack of suitable age forests. The establishment of Piney Grove Preserve by The Nature Conservancy in 1998 through a purchase of all remaining habitat supporting active clusters was a turning point in the trajectory and conservation of this species in the northern portion of its range. In 2000, a coalition of partners was formed including The Nature Conservancy, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and The Center for Conservation Biology focused on the management of habitat and woodpeckers on Piney Grove with the intent of forming a nucleus for recovery that extends to other sites. Monitoring and management of the population has been a key element of this effort. The Nature Conservancy has instituted an aggressive controlled burn program to improve and maintain habitat quality within the preserve. The Center for Conservation Biology has conducted an annual banding and monitoring program throughout the breeding season and 2 complete population censuses including spring and fall. The population within the preserve has increased dramatically from 2 pairs to 10 breeding pairs between 2002 and 2011. The overall population has increased from 20 to 48 birds during this same time period.


Years: 1975 – present

Status: Ongoing

Project Partners: The Nature Conservancy, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, United States Fish and Wildlife Service

CCB Staff: Mike Wilson, Bryan Watts, Dana Bradshaw, Mitchell Byrd, Bart Paxton, Fletcher Smith

Project Contact: Bryan Watts bdwatt@wm.edu (757) 221-2247


Publications:
Watts, B. D. and D. S. Bradshaw. 2004. Decline and protection of the Virginia red-cockaded woodpecker population. In R. Costa and S. J. Daniels, editors. Red-cockaded woodpecker: road to recovery. Hancock House Publishers, Blain, Washington, USA.

Watts, B.D. D., S. R. Harding. 2007. Virginia Red-cockaded Woodpecker Conservation Plan. CCBTR-07-07. Center for Conservation Biology Technical Report Series. College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA. 42 pp.