Volume 2 • Issue 3 • March 2008

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers on the McCurtain County Wilderness Area

Part of the Endangered Species Act

The red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) is a federally endangered species that has a very restricted habitat.  This species nests only in old-growth pine stands which, in Oklahoma, occur in the southeast.  The major habitat problems for the species are that much of these old-growth pine forests have been converted to other habitats, are in short-cycle logging rotations, or have been degraded by hardwood encroachment due to years of fire suppression.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is working to increase the number of red-cockaded woodpeckers in Oklahoma through landscape scale habitat restoration and site specific management.

In Oklahoma, the red-cockaded woodpecker is found only on the McCurtain Wilderness Area.   Here, habitat restoration work includes thinning midstory hardwoods to promote pine regeneration and conducting controlled burns at three year intervals to control hardwood development.  Management work at RCW clusters (sites that contain active nesting and roosting cavities) include cavity maintenance and cleaning, installation of  artificial nesting cavities, and banding of nestlings and juvenile RCW’s.  Also, if a cluster is found to contain only a single bird, a mate is secured from a donor population in another state and released at the site.  At recruitment stands, sites with good habitat but no active clusters, up to four artificial cavities are installed and maintained to promote the establishment of new clusters.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers are an endangered species that can be found in far southeastern Oklahoma.

The red-cockaded woodpeckers that live together as a  group in a cluster  consists of one pair of breeding adults and one or more helpers,  which are usually sons from the previous breeding seasons.  However, about ten percent of helpers are females.

John Skeen, a southeast region senior biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has worked with red-cockaded woodpeckers since 1992.

“Red-cockaded woodpeckers are not sedentary,” Skeen says.  “Individuals often move from one group to another.  When one of a breeding pair is lost, frequently a helper from an adjacent cluster fills the vacancy.  Juvenile females that disperse in the fall sometimes travel great distances in search of proper habitat and a cluster vacancy.  Recently a female was trapped on the wilderness area that had been banded the previous year at a site in Arkansas, approximately 212 air miles away.  The foraging range of a cluster is usually 250 to 300 acres but varies with the quality of the habitat. ”

Currently, there are about 15 groups of birds present on the McCurtain County Wilderness Area, Skeen says. 

“The future of the RCW in Oklahoma and throughout its range depends upon restoring the old growth pine/hardwood forest on a landscape scale and maintaining the forest with periodic controlled burns.”

For more information about Endangered Species Act grants, click here.

Written by Lesley B. Carson. Lesley is the Wildlife Diversity Information Specialist for the Department of Wildlife.


Great Plains Trail Loop 8

The Gloss Mountains

Loop 8 of the Great Plains Trail: The Gloss Mountains encompasses some very unique and beautiful landscapes in Oklahoma. The loop starts just east of Cleo Springs on U.S. Highway 412, and runs west to the Bouse Junction and ties back into Highway 412 just north of Fairview on State Highway 60.

This type of landscape is typical of the area located within the Gloss Mountains Loop.
The Gloss Mountains have also been known as the Glass Mountains in the past. The geology of the area consists of rainbow-colored high mesas that are often called Oklahoma’s Painted Desert. These mesas rise 50 to 175 feet from the valley floor. White rings are visible containing gypsum that is used worldwide for plaster applications. These deposits were left by ocean brine when an inland sea was present.

Vegetation in the area consists of native grasses such as sideoats grama, little bluestem, and buffalograss. Woody species include mesquite, sand plum, both smooth and winged sumac, hackberry, and western soapberry, along with the invasive species eastern red cedar.

Loop 8 has hiking trails at Gloss Mountain State Park and also an off the beaten path scenic route through Griever Canyon with the Cimarron River less than one mile away.  Many animal species indigenous to western Oklahoma will be present in the area including badger, roadrunner, black-tailed jackrabbit, rock wren, armadillo, and black-tailed prairie dog. Winter bird species to watch for include chestnut-collard longspur, mountain bluebird, prairie falcon, and ferruginous hawk.

This is a very diverse and scenic area of the state. Please visit www.okmajordev.org or Great Plains Trail for more information on the Great Plains Trail of Oklahoma or Gloss Mountain State Park.

Written by Brett Cooper. Brett is a graduate student at Oklahoma State University studying Wildlife Ecology.



Wildlife Conservation License Plates

A Recent Update

If you have ever thought about how you can be help wildlife conservation in Oklahoma, your chance to shine is coming soon.  Beginning in March, the newest wildlife conservation license plate that features a rainbow trout will be available for purchase.

Newest in a group of six tags, the rainbow trout joins the wild turkey, bobwhite quail, scissortail flycatcher, largemouth bass and whitetail deer.    

The license plates can be ordered by picking up a form at your local tag office and following the instructions or visiting the Oklahoma Tax Commission in Oklahoma City.  At no additional cost, anyone can have their license plate personalized.

Proceeds go to Oklahoma’s Wildlife Diversity Program, which assists more than 600 of the state’s wildlife species and the places they live.  It helps keep species from becoming endangered.  The program receives no state tax appropriations and is funded mostly through voluntary contributions.  Do your part to help Oklahoma’s wildlife and purchase a wildlife conservation license plate.

Our Mission:

The WILDLIFE DIVERSITY PROGRAM monitors and manages the state's wildlife and fish species that are not hunted or fished.