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Oklahoma’s last remaining population of federally endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers grew by 12 birds this fall thanks to a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.    

Photo of a black and white bird in two hands with a cavity tree in the background.
Clay Barnes

Twelve birds, six males and six females, were relocated from a source population at the Kisatchie National Forest near Pineville, Louisiana to the McCurtain County Wilderness Area and the adjacent Ouachita National Forest in southeastern Oklahoma. The hope is the birds will remain in the area and contribute to Oklahoma’s population of less than 50 birds.  

Red-cockaded woodpeckers nest almost exclusively in living pine trees that have been infected with red-heart fungus. They are one of only two North American woodpecker species where young birds from previous broods, known as “helpers,” remain in the territory to assist the breeding pair with the raising of young. Family groups live in a stand of cavity trees, called a “cluster.” The bird was listed as federally endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1970. 

Watch OK's Red-cockaded Woodpecker Population Gets Boost on YouTube.


Translocation Timeline 

  • Tuesday, October 24 
    • 6:45 – 8:15 p.m. – Twelve birds were captured at the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana. 
      The Kisatchie National Forest’s red-cockaded woodpecker population is estimated at 700 birds, and Forest Service staff maintain at least 250 active clusters for the communal birds. The Kisatchie also served as a source population for Oklahoma in 2018, when 10 birds were relocated to Oklahoma.   
  • Wednesday, October 25 
    • 3:28 a.m. – The transport team from the Ouachita National Forest arrived at the Mount Herman, Oklahoma staging area.  
      The mother-daughter team of U.S. Forest Service employees started their journey at the Ouachita National Forest’s headquarters in Hot Springs, Arkansas. They traveled 3.5 hours south to Mansfield, Louisiana, where a team from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries handed off the 12 recently captured birds. After the hand off, the Ouachita transport team turned north for another 3.5-hour drive to Mount Herman.  
    • 3:29 – 3:39 a.m. – The 12 birds were sorted into male-female pairs for the six waiting release teams.  
      In the weeks leading up to the translocation, biologists from the McCurtain County Wilderness Area and the Forest Service’s Oklahoma Ranger District in Hochatown ensured six “recruitment stands” with artificial cavity inserts were ready for the new birds. The recruitment stands are scattered among 12 active red-cockaded woodpecker clusters on the Wilderness Area and adjacent National Forest.   
    • 4:20 – 4:45 a.m. – Birds were transferred from their individual holding boxes to the prepared cavities.  
      The six release teams, with biologists from the McCurtain County Wilderness Area and the Forest Service’s Oklahoma Ranger District and Poteau/Cold Springs Ranger District from Waldron, Arkansas, used ladders and climbing harnesses to scale the prepared trees. After confirming the artificial cavities were free of wasps or other residents, they carefully transferred the birds from their individual holding boxes to cavities in two nearby trees. The cavity entrances were then covered so the birds could not leave until daylight.   
    • 7:32 – 7:43 a.m. – At daylight, biologists returned to the recruitment stands to pull the plugs from the cavity entrances and watched as the birds flew from the cavities. Biologists recorded the bird’s behavior and watched to see how they settled in their new habitat.  

The relocated birds will be monitored throughout the winter and into the breeding season. Colored leg bands will help identify the individual birds and confirm the success of the relocation effort.