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Last updated 4:38AM ET
March 8, 2021
Biologists Hope To Protect Rare Woodpecker Chicks
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - Jeff Gardner grabbed his ladders, climbing belt, hard hat and "peeper scope" and set off into the Talladega National Forest last week.

He scaled a tree, raised his scope and saw exactly what he was looking for: a scrawny, naked baby woodpecker.

It may not be as cute as fawns, ducklings or some of the forest's other babies, but these chicks have an important place in the woods. They are the next generation of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers.

Gardner, a biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, returned to the tree Wednesday to place bands and a serial number on the chicks.

U.S. Foresters trek through the woods of the Talladega National Forest near Coleman Lake in search of woodpecker chicks to band.

Gardner said he has banded about 20 chicks this spring, which shows a positive trend from years past.

"We are increasing," he said. "It's a slow process."

Biologists have been banding the woodpeckers in the Talladega National Forest for 15 years, using the color coding and numbers to keep track of the birds as they mature.

They monitor the birds to try and grow the populations, which have dwindled in the last 50 years.

"In Alabama, I can probably count the number of populations on both hands," Gardner said.

Gardner will watch to see where the fledglings decide to nest once they are old enough to be on their own. If the birds nest together with an odd number of males and females, he will rearrange some of the birds to get a number for even pairings.

"I may try to do some matchmaking," he said.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers have been listed as endangered species since the early 1970s, primarily because the old pine forests they use for habitats have been shrinking ever since Europeans landed in America.

"As goes the ecosystem, so goes the bird that depends on it," said Eric Spadgenske, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service in Birmingham.

The birds originally ranged from New Jersey to Florida to Texas and Oklahoma, but now can only be found in 11 states, according to Spadgenske. The size of a big sparrow but smaller than a cardinal, the black and white woodpeckers are the only species in North America that digs its nesting cavity out of live trees.

More than 150 other species, including eastern bluebirds, redheaded woodpeckers, flying squirrels and gray squirrels, use abandoned red-cockaded cavities as homes, which Gardner said makes them important members of the ecosystem.

April Crawley, a biology trainee who works with Gardner, said the trees used by the endangered birds are easy to pick out because sap is constantly oozing out of the holes they peck in the trunks.

But the trees are few and far between, and Crawley said it will take more than ankle bands to bring the woodpeckers back.

"The woodpeckers are hanging on; we just need more habitat to put them in."


Information from: The Anniston Star,

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