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South Florida Ecological Services Office  




July 12, 2004 


Species Conservation Guidelines 


South Florida



Red-cockaded Woodpecker




The Species Conservation Guidelines for the red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis

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. 


Life History 


The Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) federally listed the red-cockaded woodpecker in 1970 

and classified it as endangered in Florida due to destruction and degradation of its habitat.  The 

Revised Recovery Plan for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Recovery Plan) (Service 2003) 

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 

Plan (Service 1999) provides a synopsis of red-cockaded woodpecker ecology in this area. 




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 


South Florida Ecological Services Office  




July 12, 2004 


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 

SLOPES flowchart for the red-cockaded woodpecker can be used as a guide (Fig. 1).  The first 

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 

Coniferous Forest (410), Pine flatwoods (411), Longleaf Pine - Xeric Oak (412), and Pine - 

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 

and buffer, then no effect to red-cockaded woodpeckers is anticipated and other Federal action 

can proceed. 


South Florida Ecological Services Office  




July 12, 2004 



If suitable habitat is present the red-cockaded woodpecker is likely to be adversely affected.  

There are two options available.  Option a provides for the use of surveys of the property to 

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 

area.  See the survey protocols in Appendix A for more details.  These protocols are the 

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 

species (option b), or it is known to be present on the property, then the project may affect the 

red-cockaded woodpecker and conservation measures should be implemented to minimize 

adverse effects. 


Conservation Measures 


To facilitate conservation, management is based on the cluster.  For this purpose the cluster is the 

minimum convex polygon containing all cavity trees in use by a group of red-cockaded 

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 

measure is to modify the project footprint to avoid direct impacts to red-cockaded woodpecker 

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. 



South Florida Ecological Services Office  




July 12, 2004 


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 those associated with projects where on-site habitat avoidance, preservation, or enhancement 

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 

woodpecker.  In general, the plan includes a biological report, compensation options, and any 

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. 



South Florida Ecological Services Office  




July 12, 2004 



Biological Report 


In general, the report should include a project introduction, proposed action, project habitat 

descriptions, project effects, recommendations to minimize species effects, conclusions, and 

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. 



South Florida Ecological Services Office  




July 12, 2004 


Literature Cited 


Beever, J.W. and K.  Dryden.  1992.  Red-cockaded woodpeckers and hydric slash pine 

flatwoods.  Transactions of the 57


 North American Wildlife and Natural Resources 

Conference 57:693-700. 


Doerr, P.D., J.R. Walters, and J.H. Carter III.  1989.  Reoccupation of abandoned clusters of 

cavity trees (colonies) by red-cockaded woodpeckers.  Proceedings of the annual 

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 

colonies in Florida.  Wildlife Society Bulletin 13:307-314. 


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service).  1999.  South Florida multi-species recovery plan. 

Atlanta, Georgia. 




U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service).  2003.  Revised recovery plan for the red-cockaded 

woodpecker (Picoides borealis).  2


 revision. Atlanta, Georgia. 



U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service).  2004.  Guide to a complete initiation package. South 

Florida Ecological Services Office, Vero Beach, Florida.  




Walters, J.R.  1990.  Red-cockaded woodpeckers: a “primitive” cooperative breeder.  Pages 69-

101 in P.B. Stacey and W.D. Koenig, eds. Cooperative breeding in birds: long-term 

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 

redcockaded  woodpecker. Ethology 78:275-305. 


Wood, D.A.  1996.  Promoting red-cockaded woodpecker welfare in Florida.  Florida Game and 

Fresh Water Fish Commission.  Nongame Wildlife Management Bulletin No 1. 


GIS Data 



Suitable Habitat

Inside Consultation Area

Project modifications 

avoid suitable or occupied 














November 3, 2003

No conservation measures 

implemented. Project 

modifications result in 

adverse effects. 

Project modifications 

minimize adverse effects, 

includes on-site 


Figure 2.

Standard Local Operating Procedures for Endangered Species

Red-cockaded Woodpecker




Not Likely to Adversely Affect

Request Concurrence

Likely to 

Adversely Affect

Formal Consultation














Not Likely to Adversely Affect

Request Concurrence

No Effect


Check Consultation Area Map

Check Suitable Habitat









Conservation Measures

No Effect

• Project Description

• Habitat Description

• Checked County List?



Phone: 772.562.3909


Big Pine


South Florida

Service Area



Consultation Area




The information on this map has been 

compiled from a variety of sources and  

is intended for illustration purposes only.






Area Map

July 11, 2003

Produced by:

South Florida Ecological Services Office

Red-cockaded Woodpecker











































For projects north of South Florida Service Area

contact the Jacksonville Filed Office (904.232.2580)

Figure 1.



South Florida Ecological Services Office 






July 12, 2004 





Red-cockaded Woodpecker 


South Florida 


Survey Protocol 


7/12/04 DRAFT 

Red-cockaded Woodpecker 


South Florida 

Survey Protocol 

(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 area to be impacted by the project.  If no suitable nesting or foraging habitat is present 

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) 

of the project site, potential habitat is assessed at the level of the stand.  A stand is a term used to 

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 

of forest, woodland, or savannah in which 50 percent or more of the dominant trees are pines and 


7/12/04 DRAFT 

the dominant pine trees are generally 60 years in age or older.  These characteristics do not 

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 

older will be impacted), then further evaluation is unnecessary and red-cockaded woodpeckers 

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 

hardwood/pine stands that contain pines 60 years in age or older and that are within 0.8 km (0.5 

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 

interpretation, or field reconnaissance.  Trees should either be aged or assumed suitable if greater 

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-

cockaded woodpeckers by personnel experienced in management and monitoring of the species.  

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. 


7/12/04 DRAFT 


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, 

section 3A). 


Foraging Area Survey 


When a known red-cockaded woodpecker cluster is located on site or within off site, but within 

0.8 km (0.5 mi) of the project site a forage area survey is needed to determine if birds are 

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 

June 15) and non-nesting season (fall) surveys (October 15 through December 15).  Surveys 

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 

0.8-km (0.5 mi) radius area surrounding the cluster.  This can be modified if a foraging area 

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 

transect should be conducted through all suitable habitat.  The observer should stop every 3 to 5 

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 


7/12/04 DRAFT 

seconds of continuous red-cockaded woodpecker vocal calls.  Tapes of red-cockaded 

woodpecker vocalizations are available from Audubon and Peterson field guide series. 




7/12/04 DRAFT 



A final survey report should include the following, as applicable: 




Field data sheets that include: 




dates and starting and ending times of all surveys conducted; 



weather conditions during all surveys, including temperature, wind speed and 

direction, visibility, and precipitation; and 



the total number of red-cockaded woodpeckers observed and number of red-cockaded 

woodpecker clusters. 


Red-cockaded woodpecker activity and cavity tree information should be submitted in a survey 

report to the South Florida Ecological Services Office, 1339 20


 Str., Vero Beach, FL  32960. 



7/12/04 DRAFT 

Literature Cited 


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service).  2003.  Revised recovery plan for the red-cockaded 

woodpecker (Picoides borealis).  2


 revision. Atlanta, Georgia. 



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