NCCulture Kids
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NCCulture Kids

Weymouth Woods and the Red Cockaded Woodpecker

Welcome to Weymouth Woods Sandhills Preserve. There are so many unique plants and animals that call this type of ecosystem home, including the red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW).

RCWs typically forage, or look for food, on pine trees such as longleaf, which generally has a very open understory. They search for food along the trunks, breaking off bark with their beak, and using their long tongue to pull out things like ants and beetles. You’ll hear them taping as they poke around for food, so you’ll often hear them before you see them. Its amazing to watch them as they go around the tree looking for a good spot. Their feet are adapted to help them hang on to the sides of tree trunks so two of their toes face forward, and two face back. It’s called zygodactyl feet. They also prop their tails against the tree to help them balance while foraging.

An interesting behavior of the RWC is that if you see or hear one you will likely see or hear another. They like to be in family groups or pairs.

The males are likely to be found on the higher parts of the trunk while females are found on the trunk below the crown of the Longleaf Pine tree. This behavior helps them gather lots of food and reduces competition for limited resources.)

You’ll often hear them calling to each other as they forage together, so again, you’ll probably know where to look once you hear them.

The RCW got its common name back in the 1800’s, the term “cockade” referred to the ribbon on a hat. A Male RCW has a tiny and difficult to see red patch on the side of its head, and that’s the cockade, but you rarely see it. The female lacks this red patch.

Living together is crucial for RCWs. One of the hardest things they have to do is build their cavities, or the holes in the trees, that they sleep and nest in. RCWs live in live trees, which is different from all the other woodpeckers in this area. But live trees are very dense, and these pine trees have a lot of resin in them, a substance that oozes like sap if the tree gets injured in any way. After they get through the resin in the outer parts of the wood, they still have to excavate the cavity once they get to the center. It can take 2 years or even longer for them to finish just one cavity, so living on your own is not a good option.

Because the RCW builds so many cavities, they are called keystone species and have a positive impact on the longleaf Pine habitat. There are many other animals that can also live in these cavities. These animals are secondary users of the cavity and depend on using abandoned cavities because they cannot build their own. Southern Flying Squirrels, Red Bellied Woodpeckers, red-headed woodpeckers, Eastern Bluebirds Nuthatches, and flycatchers are often seen taking up a home in the RCW longleaf pine cavities.

Student Resources:

Discover More (reading page) — Woodpecker Wonders
Explore Outdoors — Backyard Bird Evidence
Glossary — Woodpercker Wonders
Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve Fact Sheet

Weymouth Woods RCW video and student resources are correlated with the following North Carolina Standards:

  1. Red Cockaded Woodpecker- Physical and Behavioral adaptations
    4.L.1- Understand the effects of environmental changes, adaptations, and behaviors that enable animals to survive in changing habitats.
    4.L.1.1-Give examples of changes in an organism’s environment that are beneficial to it and some that are harmful to it.
    4.L.1.2- Explain how animals meet their needs by using behaviors in responses to information received from the environment.

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