Arkansas Bird: Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

"Dinner!" by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast RegionThere are a number of endangered species in Arkansas and many of them are hard to spot. One bird that’s worth seeing out is the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, the second most rare bird in the state after the mysterious Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. They live south of us in the Ouachita National Forest in the Pine Bluestem area that’s being turned back into prime Red-Cockaded Woodpecker habitat.

Why are these birds so endangered? It turns out that they need a certain fungus to infect the heartwood of pine trees so they can excavate them and make nesting areas inside of the trees. Unfortunately, this fungus can’t do its job for the birds until a long time has passed. We’re talking 80 years in the short term. These birds were really suffering because of the change in habitat when logging happened in Arkansas. Since then urbanization and farm lands wiped out a lot of old pine forests that provided homes for the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker.

Conservationists have been using management techniques to provide habitat for the birds with artificial cavities, like the one in the photo, to help increase the population. It’s working in Arkansas.

But there is a strong and growing population not too far away and right now is nesting season—the perfect time to spot these illusive birds. A great place to start is the the US Forestry Service visitor center located at the intersection of US 71 and Ark. 248 West in Waldron or by phone at 479-637-4174. They have maps available of the area and can direct you in the right direction towards cavity trees.

RCWs, as biologists call them, live in the cavities they hollow out in trees and tend to hang out and socialize around their cavities an hour before and after sunrise and sunset. The best times to catch them is during these timeframes because during the day the birds are out foraging. The biologist at the US Forestry Service visitor’s center told us that this time of year during those times, you’re nearly assured seeing at least one RCW.

If you do decide to go check these birds out, take overnight gear for camping so you can be there during the right time. Camping is available at the Little Pines recreation area at Lake Hinkle.

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