Endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers return to Hitchcock Woods 2

Robert Abernethy, left, Anne Kiser and Randy Wolcott watch two red-cockaded woodpeckers after they were released in Hitchcock Woods on Thursday morning.

There is a reason why Hitchcock Woods is much beloved, and it has nothing to do with tree hugging, or a lack of desire to greet progress and development.

It's about taking care of its inhabitants, caring for the creatures big and small that call the 1,100 acre urban woods home.

People like Anne Kiser and Randy Wolcott, who have made it their mission to fight for the preservation of something as seemingly insignificant to the overall scheme of things as the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, and give the bird a fighting chance at survival. 

This week, Kiser and Wolcott released male and female red-cockaded woodpeckers into the wild of Hitchcock Woods where, hopefully, the birds becoming breeding pairs that can help save the endangered species. 

Wolcott and Kiser are members of the Hitchcock Woods Foundation’s Board of Trustees, which has been working for years to bring endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers back to the urban forest.

Wolcott spearheaded effort.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers disappeared from Hitchcock Woods during the late 1960s or early 1970s, probably because the environment in Hitchcock Woods wasn’t suitable anymore.

In the late 1990s, however, the Foundation approved a management strategy to restore the longleaf pine ecosystem that the woodpeckers adore.

“We’ve been able to create enough habitat for them again, and the forest is in good health,” Wolcott said.

This is one reason why there are those who passionately object to development along Hitchcock Parkway, which borders the protected Hitchcock Woods. 

For Kiser and Wolcott, reintroducing the woodpeckers into Hitchcock Woods has been a goal of theirs spanning the past 15 years. To see it succeed was both humbling and emotional. 

“I cried,” Kiser said. “I used to work in the Francis Marion National Forest as a forester, so I know exactly where these birds came from. Now they’re here, and it’s wonderful.”

For Wolcott, the release was the realization of a dream.

“I’ve been thinking about this for 15 years,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that it’s actually happened. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet.”

In all, 10 woodpeckers – five males and five females – were turned loose in five different parts of Hitchcock Woods. Some of the 10 birds will pair off, breed and remain, not necessarily with the same bird with whom they were originally paired. Others will travel elsewhere and settle down. 

The efforts of Kiser and Wolcott, at least, give the woodpeckers a chance to reestablish their species in Hitchcock Woods, which is better than the birds had before.