Baby woodpeckers successfully re-nested at Naples Zoo

By Joanna Fitzgerald | Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital

Hospital staff warm three newly admitted red-bellied woodpeckers nestlings. The nestlings were displaced when their nest tree was damaged.

Three baby red-bellied woodpeckers were among the 93 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a red rat snake, a common moorhen, a green heron, two killdeer and a Southern flying squirrel.

A dead tree containing a red-bellied woodpecker nest cavity fell down in an animal enclosure at the Naples Zoo. As Zoo staff cleared the fallen tree they heard the babies and got them out of the branch. The woodpecker parents were in the area obviously distressed and searching for their babies. The three newly hatched woodpeckers were brought to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital to ensure they were uninjured. Hospital staff cared for the three babies while zoo staff worked to rebuild the woodpecker nest.

Naples Zoo staff member, Cody Ellis, readies a newly constructed woodpecker nest box for installation. The woodpecker’s nest was destroyed during a storm.

The staff at the zoo was amazing. They constructed a new nest cavity, which included a hinged roof for access, using part of the original tree. The process took several hours and by early afternoon wildlife hospital staff coordinated with zoo staff to return the babies to their “new” home.

Everyone was encouraged that the re-nesting would be successful because the female woodpecker was seen searching nearby trees throughout the entire process. The female even landed on the tree while several zoo keepers attached the nest box to the tree.

Once the babies were placed in the nest, everyone cleared the area to wait and see if the parents would return. Within five minutes the female was on the tree. It only took another five minutes for the female to poke her head into the nest box and make contact with her babies.

Naples Zoo staffers, Cindy Hall and Mikey Sullivan, attach the woodpecker nest box to a tree in order to reunite three newly hatched babies with their parents.

Naples Zoo staff monitored the situation the rest of the afternoon and checked again early the next morning. Both adult woodpeckers were observed at the nest.

Wildlife is truly invested in raising their young but sometimes they need help. This situation was inspiring because everyone was committed to fixing the situation so the woodpeckers could continue to care for their young. Thanks to everyone at the Naples Zoo that was involved with this project.

Consider helping wildlife by installing nest boxes on your property. Many species of wildlife such as woodpeckers, purple martins, flying squirrels, bats and eastern screech owls will use man-made nest boxes. Providing a nest box is a great way to encourage native wildlife to set up residency in your yard.

Recent Releases — 46 Animals Returned Home

  • 3 Florida softshell turtles
  • 9 eastern cottontails
  • 4 gopher tortoises
  • 1 anhinga
  • 5 Northern mockingbirds
  • 1 purple martin
  • 1 burrowing owl
  • 4 Cooper’s hawks
  • 2 brown thrashers
  • 1 blue jay
  • 1 broad-winged hawk
  • 1 red-shouldered hawk
  • 1 snowy egret
  • 4 Cooper’s hawks
  • 2 northern cardinals
  • 2 grey squirrels
  • 8 mottled ducks

Two of the gopher tortoise releases this past week were especially rewarding. One tortoise had been in rehab for two years and the other tortoise had been here for 2 ½ years. Both had suffered spinal fractures caused by being hit by cars. It took that long for the tortoises to regain nerve function and strength. It was amazing to see them returned to the wild.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit the Conservancy website at to view all of the amazing volunteer opportunities at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Your volunteer time, donations, and memberships are vital in helping us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

Joanna Fitzgerald is director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Call 239–262–2273 or see

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