Endangered birds moved here

Published 10:04 am Wednesday, October 13, 2010

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Eight red-cockaded woodpeckers—one of the most endangered bird species—were transported to the Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area Friday morning with hopes that the birds would fall in love with their new surroundings.

Silver Lake WMA is the only state-owned land the rare birds are found on.

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With the arrival of eight new birds, the population is estimated to have increased to 65 birds, said Phil Spivey, Georgia Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist.

“That’s a small number compared to other populations,” said Spivey, who was in charge of the project. “If you have only 57, that’s simply not enough to maintain a viable population.”

Four female and four male juvenile birds were originally taken from a relatively strong red-cockaded woodpecker population at Eglin Air Force Base in the panhandle of Florida to Silver Lake Thursday evening. Eglin’s red-cockaded woodpecker’s population is between 1,000 to 1,500, which is the largest of any one area. Another large cluster site is on private land in Thomas County, Ga., Spivey said.

Spivey was also scheduled to bring two more female red-cockaded woodpeckers to Silver Lake this week, in hopes that they will mate with two males already in the wildlife management area’s long-leaf pine areas surrounding Silver Lake.

Spivey said the state hopes to increase the population to at least 30 family groups, which research has shown is a threshold for having a stable population and is easy to maintain over time.

The DNR had already prepared the birds’ cavities in old pine trees, and made those trees look like home by drilling small holes into the tree. The holes are made to resemble oozing resin, and then most of the bark below the cavities is peeled off, which wards off competing birds and predators.

Spivey said these woodpeckers have a complex social structure and live in family groups usually made up of an adult breeding pair and several “helpers,” or young male offspring. All live in a cluster of cavity trees, which trees may cover a territory of 50 to 500 acres. Each adult meticulously flakes all loose bark from around the cavity and drills tiny resin wells, from which flow copious amounts of resin.

The trees with the bird cavities can be identified by their white bands around them. Spivey said the forests on the WMA have about 40 natural cavities and 120 cavity inserts that DNR or the former landowners, International Paper, created.

Spivey said the success rate for relocating birds to new areas is not bad—about 75 to 80 percent success rate. Of all the birds relocated to Silver Lake in years past, four have moved to other locations. For example, one banded bird from Silver Lake was found in Fort Benning, Ga., and another found in Tall Timbers research station located near Tallahassee, Fla.

“We didn’t realize these birds move around quite to that extent until we banded them,” Spivey said. Most all the birds on Silver Lake were fitted with four colored bands as well as an aluminum band on their small legs when they were only four to six weeks old.

The red-cockaded woodpecker was listed as endangered in 1968, before the federal Endangered Species Act existed. The reason was the growing disappearance of its habitat—old, longleaf pine forests.

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