The effort to reintroduce red-cockaded woodpeckers to Hitchcock Woods is showing signs of success.
Three babies have hatched this year, and on June 16, Mark Pavlosky Jr. of MPJ Wildlife Consulting banded the youngest, which was only seven days old.
The skinny, featherless, pink and gray nestling squawked loudly after Pavlosky climbed up a ladder and removed it from an artificial nest box, or insert, that is 20 feet above the ground in a tall longleaf pine.
“If its eyes were open, it wouldn’t be quite so chatty,” Pavlosky said. “It can sense light and it can feel, but it doesn’t really know what is going on. It thinks it should be getting fed, and it likes bugs, lots and lots of bugs.”
First, Pavlosky weighed the little bird.
“It’s 23 grams, even,” he said.
Then, using a pair of pliers, the biologist worked quickly and placed bands made of aluminum and plastic on the nestling’s legs – two on the left and three on the right.
When the nestling is older, those bands will help Pavlosky and others identify the bird. They will be able to tell what year it was born and where it was born.
Near the end of June, Pavlosky will return to the nestling’s home tree and examine it to determine its sex.
“A male will have a red patch (of feathers) on the top of his head as a juvenile,” said Pavlosky before returning the baby to the insert.
Red-cockaded woodpeckers disappeared from Hitchcock Woods, which is one of the nation’s largest urban forests, in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
Last November, 10 of the birds – five males and five females that had been born in the spring of 2016 – were captured in Francis Marion National Forest and brought to Hitchcock Woods.
The Hitchcock Woods Foundation is working with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources on the project. Plans call for additional red-cockaded woodpeckers to be translocated from Francis Marion or another site to Hitchcock Woods later this year and also in 2018 and 2019.
“The goal is to have nine potential breeding pairs on the landscape (in Hitchcock Woods) after four years, and I think we are going to reach that goal ahead of schedule,” Pavlosky said.
Of the 10 red-cockaded woodpeckers that arrived last fall, at least seven remain – three male/female pairs and one single male.
“I believe that there is an eighth bird out there,” Pavlosky said. “A female was seen just prior to breeding season, but hasn’t been seen since. It is very likely that she is still in Hitchcock Woods.”
All three pairs attempted to nest this spring. Two of the pairs were successful and hatched babies.
The nestling banded June 16 is its parents’ only offspring. The two female babies produced earlier by another pair have fledged and are flying around while being fed by their parents.
“In translocations, there is typically is an average retention rate of 40 to 50 percent, so we’re doing very well here,” Pavlosky said. “They (the birds) are responding to good forest management plan in Hitchcock Woods. Without the proper habitat, all of them would have just taken off and left, which would have been their way of saying, ‘See you later.’ ”