Thursday, October 16, 2008

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at Disney wildlife preserve

From The Ledger in Florida:

If you are ever asked how to put a red-cockaded woodpecker to bed, the answer is beak-first.

Friday evening, biologist Monica Folk worked her way up the trunk of a longleaf pine. A strap connected to a box containing a red-cockaded woodpecker was slung over her shoulder.

I helped carry some of the gear through restored open pinewoods at Disney Wilderness Preserve, a 12,000-acre nature preserve stretching from Lake Russell to Lake Hatchineha at the edge of Poinciana.

She opened the box and then opened a bag inside the box that held the bird. She reached in and gently put the bird inside the tree cavity.

Once the bird is tucked inside the hole in the tree, a wire mesh cover is secured over the hole to keep the bird there until morning.

The hole, by the way, is an artificial nest cavity. This is a technique that was developed in the 1990s to provide an instant nesting and roosting site for newly introduced birds.

In the morning the barrier will be yanked off with a string attached to it and the bird will get its first look at its new home.

Last year I was one of the designated string yankers.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers are not a common sight in this part of Florida.

There's a small colony at the Avon Park Air Force Range, but encountering a red-cockaded woodpecker in the wild is often a matter of chance unless you spot them coming and going from their nest trees, which are usually marked with a band of white paint.

I encountered one out feeding at Ocala National Forest once, and it was such a surprise, I stopped for a while to savor the moment.

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