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Uncommon Sighting: A Pink-cockaded Woodpecker

September 29, 2022

| Red-cockaded Woodpecker by Chuck Gehringer |

It’s not often that FeederWatch participants report endangered species in their backyard. This past August, long-time FeederWatcher Chuck Gehringer spotted a Red-cockaded Woodpecker at his home in Pinehurst, North Carolina. 

These small birds are identified by a black-and-white striped back, a white cheek, and, on males, a tiny, nearly invisible red streak (“cockade”) at the upper border of the cheek. Gehringer’s identification was helped by previous experience with the species–he had seen Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management area in Florida and at Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve in North Carolina. 

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a habitat specialist of the Southeast’s once-vast longleaf pine stands. This old pine habitat with very little understory was shaped by the region’s frequent lightning fires. These woodpeckers will also inhabit stands of loblolly, slash, and other pine species. The species declined drastically as logging destroyed its preferred habitat. While once common, Partners in Flight estimates there are as few as 19,000 individuals left. Learn more about Red-cockaded Woodpeckers on the Cornell Lab’s All About Birds website.

Gehringer told us that he heard the woodpecker before he saw it, saying, “I heard it pecking on a tree in front of me. It then flew to a nearby pine tree and continued pecking. I was able to take a few poor photos of it due to the rainy weather that day.” Fortunately, the woodpecker returned, and Gehringer was able to get a better photo, which he later uploaded to FeederWatch’s Participant Photos Gallery Gehringer has seen the woodpecker a few more times since then, even spotting three individuals visiting his suet feeder in late August.

The Red-cockaded Woodpeckers visiting Gehringer’s feeders are banded, as can be seen in the photo. Bird banding, which involves placing a metal band and sometimes colorful plastic bands around birds legs (as well as gathering data about the birds), can help scientists differentiate between individuals of a species, as well as study birds’ age, ranges, and more. Bird banding in the U.S. is regulated by the US Geological Survey, and they have a website you can use to report banded birds. It remains to be seen whether these non-migratory woodpeckers will stick around in Gehringer’s yard for the upcoming 2022-23 FeederWatch season, but thanks to the bands, Gehringer should be able to tell if the same individuals return, or if different Red-cockaded Woodpeckers appear.

Participants are welcome to share photos of birds, FeederWatch count sites,or people watching birds by uploading photos to our Participant Photos Gallery page, located under the Community tab on the Project FeederWatch site. 

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