South Florida Ecological Services Office
July 12, 2004
Species Conservation Guidelines
provide a tool to determine if a project may adversely affect the red-cockaded woodpecker. Here
we describe what actions might have a detrimental impact on red-cockaded woodpeckers and
how these effects can be avoided or minimized.
The Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) federally listed the red-cockaded woodpecker in 1970
provides information on habitat needs, territory sizes, and species biology. The Service also
views this guidance as applicable to section 7 and 10 consultations as a tool to minimize adverse
effects to the red-cockaded woodpecker. In addition, the South Florida Multi-Species Recovery
The red-cockaded woodpecker is non-migratory, territorial, and lives in cooperative breeding
social units called groups. It uses mature pine trees to develop nest cavities and is the only North
American woodpecker that excavates its roost and nest cavities in living trees. Active cavities
can be easily identified by their resin flow pattern (Wood 1996). Cavities are the most valuable
habitat property as they can take 3 years or more to excavate (Service 1999). Cavities are
periodically abandoned and reoccupied (Doerr et al. 1989). If a cavity is abandoned fro more
than 5 years there is a low probability of reoccupation. Cavity trees tend to be aggregated into
areas known as “clusters.” The cluster is made up of active (in use) and inactive (previously
used) cavity trees within an area defended by a single group (Walters et al. 1988). Suitable
nesting habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker include pine stands, or pine-dominated
pine/hardwood stands, with a low or sparse understory and ample old-growth pines (Service
1999). Trees must be more than 60 years old to be suitable for cavity construction. Longleaf
pine (Pinus palustris) is preferred where available, however, cavities are also constructed in all
other pine trees in Florida with the exception of sand pine (Pinus clausa) and spruce pine (Pinus
glabra) (Hovis and Labisky 1985). South of the longleaf pine range, red-cockaded woodpeckers
typically use slash pine (Pinus elliottii) (Beever and Dryden 1992). Other habitats, such as areas
with sparse pine canopies, melaleuca (Melaleuca quinquenervia) or Brazilian pepper (Schinus
terebinthifolius) invasion, mixed pine/cypress habitats, cypress heads, and very young pine
habitats, are used in south Florida, although this habitat use may not be typical throughout its
range. In south Florida, red-cockaded woodpeckers will also forage in young pine trees and
traverse open prairie-type habitats to reach forage areas (Beever and Dryden 1992). Home
ranges for red-cockaded woodpeckers average 141-162 ha (350-400 acres) in southern and
central Florida, and can exceed 200 ha (494 acres) in southwest Florida due to low productivity
of this area (Beever and Dryden 1992). Red-cockaded woodpeckers frequently disperse up to 5
km (3.1 mi) from their natal cluster to form new clusters (Walters 1990).
Red-cockaded woodpecker populations are widespread, but small and disjunct in the south
Florida region. Substantial clusters of red-cockaded woodpeckers occur in Three Lakes Wildlife
Management Area (Osceola County), Avon Park Air Force Range (Highlands County), Cecil M.
Webb Wildlife Management Area (Charlotte County), and Big Cypress National Preserve
(Collier and Monroe Counties) with scattered small populations throughout the service area.
There is no designated critical habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker.
To help in determining whether your project may affect the red-cockaded woodpecker the
step requires project-specific information that generally includes a project description, habitat
maps, and project location. Though nest sites may be off the property if the red-cockaded
woodpecker uses the property as a foraging area the Service considers it occupied because the
habitat fulfills the species life history needs. The Service uses a 200-ha (494 acres) circular area
as the furthest point that would allow for overlap of an off-site territory onto the property. As
such, a 0.8-km (0.5 mi) buffer around the project should be identified on the habitat maps and
considered in habitat use.
Suitable habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers would include FLUCCS categories Upland
Mesic Oak (414). Hydric slash pine flatwoods can be difficult to identify from aerial and
FLUCCS maps. In these habitats only mature pines (greater than 60 years old) are important as
nesting trees (Beever and Dryden 1992), but these can be as small as 15.2 cm (6 in) dbh.
You can check occurrence records of red-cockaded woodpeckers in your area through the
Florida Natural Areas Inventory (http://www.fnai.org/).
If no suitable habitat [mature pines greater than 15.2 cm (6 in) dbh is present in the project area
If suitable habitat is present the red-cockaded woodpecker is likely to be adversely affected.
determine the presence or presumed absence of red-cockaded woodpecker. While option b
assumes that suitable habitat support red-cockaded woodpecker.
Two types of surveys are needed for the red-cockaded woodpecker: cavity tree and foraging
minimum level of effort the Service believes necessary to determine the presence or absence of
this species in the area. If surveys do not detect the presence of the red-cockaded woodpecker on
the property and buffer, then the project is no likely to adversely affect red-cockaded
If surveys detect the red-cockaded woodpecker, suitable habitats are assumed to support the
red-cockaded woodpecker and conservation measures should be implemented to minimize
To facilitate conservation, management is based on the cluster. For this purpose the cluster is the
woodpeckers and a surrounding 61-m (200 ft) wide area of continuous forest. The occupied
habitat consists of the cluster and foraging area, a 0.8- km (0.5 mi) wide area surrounding the
The Service encourages users to use the Recovery Plan (Service 2003) for any on-site
preservation, enhancement, or management actions they propose that may have an effect on the
red-cockaded woodpecker. The Recovery Plan also provides guidance for off-site compensation
needs for occupied habitat losses.
The Service strongly recommends that occupied habitats be avoided and preserved. The first
habitat. This habitat could be designated as an environmentally sensitive area and set aside by
deed restriction, easement, or other protective covenant. If the occupied habitat on the property
exceeds 2 ha (5 acres), then a habitat management plan is also recommended. The incorporation
of these recommendations into the project design and documented in the habitat management
plan can result in the project not likely to adversely affect the red-cockaded woodpecker.
On-site habitat enhancements are recommended by the Service in situations where a project
proposes to impact occupied red-cockaded woodpecker habitat. If the site has been physically
altered by exotic species invasion, lack of fire, or other anthropogenic actions. These alterations
have produced on-site habitat conditions that have resulted in marginally suitable habitats for the
survival and propagation of the red-cockaded woodpecker. The planned action, through project
redesign, has avoided impacting a substantial portion of the habitat; however some habitat loss
will still occur. The project proposes on-site habitat enhancements and management actions that
provide habitat quality improvements that balance losses of small amounts of marginally suitable
habitats. The incorporation of these recommendations into the project and documented in a
habitat management plan can result in the project not likely to adversely affect the red-cockaded
The remaining measures available to minimize adverse effects to the red-cockaded woodpecker
are insufficient or are not appropriate and take of red-cockaded woodpecker is likely. If on-site
habitat modifications reduce suitable habitats below 200 ha (494 acres) (including off-site area)
then take is likely. When take is likely, the project is likely to adversely affect the red-cockaded
woodpecker and compensation is a possible option. The Service has developed measures that
are applicable to projects where compensation for adverse effects is appropriate. These
measures, which further the Service’s goals for conservation and recovery of the species, are
discussed in detail in the Recovery Plan (Service 2003: 119). The Service prefers compensation
on site or nearby. If these option are not available then compensation at the nearest red-
cockaded woodpecker conservation area is a second option. Contact the Service at the earliest
possible time to discuss these compensation options.
Habitat Management Plan
A Habitat Management Plan is necessary when a project may affect the red-cockaded
land preservation covenants. Habitat management options are listed in the Recovery Plan
(Service 2003: 71). If habitat enhancements are proposed, the management plan needs to include
a habitat monitoring component. Population and habitat monitoring is an essential aspect of the
red-cockaded woodpecker management and recovery. Only through accurate monitoring can we
determine the success and failure of our management actions, and adapt these actions
accordingly. Appropriate intensity of monitoring varies with population size, role in recovery,
and management objectives. Sections 3A, 8C, 8D, and Appendix 2 of the Recovery Plan
(Service 2003) describes basic monitoring techniques.
In general, the report should include a project introduction, proposed action, project habitat
commitments. The report should also include the survey report, survey data sheets, and
territorial boundaries of the cluster, if red-cockaded woodpeckers are present. Refer to Service
(2004) for a more detailed discussion of report requirements, format, explanations of common
ESA questions, and level of detail needed in the report.
Beever, J.W. and K. Dryden. 1992. Red-cockaded woodpeckers and hydric slash pine
North American Wildlife and Natural Resources
Doerr, P.D., J.R. Walters, and J.H. Carter III. 1989. Reoccupation of abandoned clusters of
conference of Southeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 43: 326-336.
Hovis, J.A. and R.F. Labisky. 1985. Vegetative associations of red-cockaded woodpecker
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). 1999. South Florida multi-species recovery plan.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). 2003. Revised recovery plan for the red-cockaded
revision. Atlanta, Georgia.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). 2004. Guide to a complete initiation package. South
Walters, J.R. 1990. Red-cockaded woodpeckers: a “primitive” cooperative breeder. Pages 69-
studies of ecology and behavior. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England.
Walters, J.R., P.D. Doerr, and J.H. Carter III. 1988. The cooperative breeding system of the
Wood, D.A. 1996. Promoting red-cockaded woodpecker welfare in Florida. Florida Game and
Inside Consultation Area
avoid suitable or occupied
No conservation measures
modifications result in
minimize adverse effects,
Standard Local Operating Procedures for Endangered Species
Not Likely to Adversely Affect
Check Consultation Area Map
Check Suitable Habitat
• Project Description
• Habitat Description
• Checked County List?
The information on this map has been
compiled from a variety of sources and
is intended for illustration purposes only.
July 11, 2003
South Florida Ecological Services Office
contact the Jacksonville Filed Office (904.232.2580)
South Florida Ecological Services Office
(Adapted from Service 2003)
Nesting and Foraging Habitat
Surveys are used to determine whether the nesting and/or foraging habitat of a red-cockaded
woodpecker group will be adversely impacted by a proposed project. This is an important part
of the conservation and management of this endangered species, and therefore the Fish and
Wildlife Service has developed standard survey and analysis procedures for such determinations.
These determinations must be undertaken prior to the initiation of any project within the
southeastern United States that calls for removal of pine trees 60 years or older; typically such
trees will be at least 25.4 cm (10 in) dbh (diameter at breast height) or larger. In south Florida
slash pines as small as 15.2 cm (6 in) dbh can be this old. The procedure is also used following
new land acquisition by state and federal agencies in the southeast or any other circumstance in
which the presence or absence of red-cockaded woodpeckers is to be assessed.
The first step in the survey procedure is to determine if suitable nesting or foraging habitat exists
within the project impact area, further assessment is unnecessary and no effect to the red-
cockaded woodpecker is anticipated. If no suitable nesting habitat is present within the project
impact area, but suitable foraging habitat is present and will be impacted, potential use of this
foraging habitat by groups outside the project boundaries must be determined. This is
accomplished by identifying any potential nesting habitat within 0.8 km (0.5 mi) of the suitable
foraging habitat that would be impacted by the project. Any potential nesting habitat is then
surveyed for cavity trees. This procedure is described in greater detail below. If no active
clusters are found, then to the red-cockaded woodpecker is anticipated. If one or more active
clusters are found, a foraging habitat analysis is conducted (see below) to determine whether
sufficient amounts of foraging habitat will remain for each group post-project.
For nesting and foraging habitat surveys within project impact areas and within 0.8 km (0.5 mi)
refer to a wooded area receiving past or current silvicultural treatment as a single management
unit. Here we expand the term to include any subset of a tract of wooded land, divided by
biological community type, management history, or any other reasonable approach. A small
tract of land may be considered a single stand or part of a large stand.
Identification of Suitable Foraging Habitat
For the purpose of surveying, suitable foraging habitat consists of a pine or pine/hardwood stand
necessarily describe good quality foraging habitat; rather, this is a conservative description of
potentially suitable habitat. Identification of pine and pine/hardwood stands can be made using
cover maps that identify pine and pine/hardwood stands, aerial photographs interpreted by
standard techniques, or a field survey conducted by an experienced forester or biologist. Age of
stands can be determined by aging representative dominant pines in the stands using an
increment-borer and counting annual growth rings. Stand data describing size classes may be
substituted for age if the average size of 60 year-old pines is known for the local area and habitat
If no suitable foraging habitat is present within the project area (that is, no pines 60 years or
can be presumed absent. If the project area contains any suitable foraging habitat that will be
impacted by the project, that habitat, if it contains any 60 year old trees or older, and all other
suitable nesting habitat within 0.8 km (0.5 mi) of the project site, regardless of ownership, must
be surveyed for the presence of red-cockaded woodpeckers.
Identification of Suitable Nesting Habitat
For the purpose of surveying, suitable nesting habitat consists of pine, pine/hardwood, and
mi) of the suitable foraging habitat to be impacted at the project site (see above). Additionally,
pines 60 years in age or older may be scattered or clumped within younger stands; these older
trees within younger stands must also be examined for the presence of red-cockaded woodpecker
cavities. These characteristics do not necessarily describe good quality nesting habitat; rather,
this is a conservative description of potential nesting habitat.
Determination of suitable nesting habitat may be based on existing stand data, aerial photo
than 15.2 cm (6 in) dbh. All stands meeting the above description, regardless of ownership,
should be surveyed for cavity trees.
Cavity Tree Survey
Once suitable nesting habitat is identified (above), it must be surveyed for cavity trees of red-
Potential nesting habitat is surveyed by running line transects through stands and visually
inspecting all medium-sized and large pines for evidence of cavity excavation by red-cockaded
woodpeckers. Transects must be spaced so that all trees are inspected. Necessary spacing will
vary with habitat structure and season from a maximum of 91 m (300 ft) between transects in
very open pine stands to 46 m (150 ft) or less in areas with dense midstory. Transects are run
north-south, because many cavity entrances are oriented in a westerly direction, and can be set
using a hand compass. While surveying for cavities look and listen for red-cockaded
woodpeckers. If any are observed record their location and behavior.
When cavity trees are found, their location is recorded in the field using a Global Positioning
System (GPS) unit, aerial photograph, or field map. Activity status, cavity stage (start, advanced
start, or complete cavity), and any entrance enlargement are assessed and recorded at this time.
A cavity can only be considered abandoned if inactive for five consecutive years. Again, it is
extremely important to have all surveys and cavity tree assessments performed by experienced
personnel. If cavity trees are found, more intense surveying within 457 m (1,500 ft) of each
cavity tree is conducted to locate all cavity trees in the area. Cavity trees are later assigned into
clusters based on observations of red-cockaded woodpeckers as described in Service (2003,
Foraging Area Survey
When a known red-cockaded woodpecker cluster is located on site or within off site, but within
foraging on site. If the off-site buffer can not be surveyed then the nearest known active cluster
should be determined. If an active cluster occurs within 5 km (3.1 km) of the site then a forage
survey should be conducted.
Surveys for foraging area boundaries require both breeding season surveys (April 15 through
should be conducted during the morning hours, from 1 hour prior to sunrise to four hours past
sunrise. Surveys outside of these time frames can be inconclusive. Only calm, clear days should
be surveyed as red-cockaded woodpecker activity is limited on windy and rainy days. The
foraging area surveys require 14 days of survey over the season. Two methods of identifying
foraging area boundaries are provided depending on the circumstances.
If there are active red-cockaded woodpecker cavities on the property the territory is considered a
survey is conducted to determine the area boundaries. A foraging area survey commences with
observations of the red-cockaded woodpeckers when they leave their roosts. The surveyor
documents the number of birds and tracks the birds as they forage through the adjacent habitats.
Data should be collected at half hour intervals, recorded on maps, or documented with GPS
coordinates for later mapping. If the red-cockaded woodpecker moves to a new location while
being observed, the flight direction and the location where the red-cockaded woodpecker lands
should be noted. Behavior and vocalizations should be noted, especially behavior that would
indicate courtship or nesting.
If there are no active red-cockaded woodpecker cavities on the property a meandering pedestrian
minutes, look, and listen for red-cockaded woodpecker activity. Since these birds are territorial
and will defend their territory from intrusion by other individuals, the use of red-cockaded
woodpecker vocal recordings can facilitate observation. Therefore, at each of the stops, play 30
woodpecker vocalizations are available from Audubon and Peterson field guide series.
A final survey report should include the following, as applicable:
dates and starting and ending times of all surveys conducted;
weather conditions during all surveys, including temperature, wind speed and
Red-cockaded woodpecker activity and cavity tree information should be submitted in a survey
Str., Vero Beach, FL 32960.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). 2003. Revised recovery plan for the red-cockaded
revision. Atlanta, Georgia.