On a warm, clear evening in November, two LG2 biologists wait in woods, hunkered down quietly in the palmetto groundcover of a beautiful longleaf pine forest awaiting the return of a family of woodpeckers to their roosting cavities for the night. The goal: utilize stealth and expertise to capture a red-cockaded woodpecker. The minutes tick by in silence as the day draws to a close around them, the sun sinking lower into the pink sky until finally a distinctive call can be heard from the approaching birds. After some last minute foraging for insects in the bark of the tree followed by careful inspection of their cavities, each bird is observed wiggling into the entrance tunnel of their own roosting tree.
The biologists spring into action – and by ‘spring’ we mean carefully, slowly and as silently as possible approaching the tree, armed simply with a net fixed atop a telescoping pole. The tension is palpable – they will only get one chance. One biologist spots with binoculars as the other raises the net to the exact height of the cavity entrance (in this case, 30 feet). Once in place, the biologists make sufficient noise to cause the bird to exit the tree… right into the awaiting trap. The specially designed net containing the bird is lowered and the biologists are able to safely retrieve it. Success! The target bird is captured and safely placed a specifically designed transport box before collecting their equipment and driving away.
WHY, you ask, would biologists sneak in to ‘birdnap’ a woodpecker from its bed? It’s all in the name of saving an endangered species.
Earlier this month, LG2 was pleased to volunteer our newest Senior Biologist and Project Manager, Kristina Witter , assisted by Junior Biologist, Hayley DiGiano, to participate in an event that directly facilitates the recovery of the critically endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW). The biologists assisted the large-scale effort with the capture of a predetermined juvenile male from a “cluster” (family group) on the Osceola National Forest, which was then transported to a new home on the Disney Wilderness Preserve. In fact, the pair made up one of 8 teams comprised of volunteer biologists with organizations including FWC, SJRWMD, Ft. Bragg, Camp Blanding, and multiple independent contractors all aimed with the mutual goal of simultaneously capturing birds from across the forest, marked for relocation by the forest’s RCW biologist, Sarah Lauerman. The evening was a huge success and the birds were safely released at their new home the following dawn.
These capture and transport events are known as ‘translocations’ and are used frequently as a tool in wildlife recovery efforts. Translocations directly facilitates recovery of the RCW by augmenting the identified ‘recipient’ population with hatch-year birds from a much larger ‘donor’ population. This management strategy has played a major role in the recovery of the RCW since the late 1980s, endangered due to the massive loss of their preferred habitat, old-growth Longleaf Pine forests.
Ms. Witter is an RCW subject matter expert who has worked with the species for over 13 years. Since 2007, Ms. Witter has lead or participated in annual large-scale RCW translocations between various federal, state and private lands. This year, she was able to facilitate LG2’s introduction into the world of RCW relocation activities.
“I was thrilled for the opportunity to help my colleagues with their efforts, continue to contribute to RCW recovery, and break in a new member to the RCW community.” – Kristina Witter
We at LG2, look forward to future opportunities for involvement in endangered RCW recovery, monitoring, and management activities.
Kristina Witter, Senior Project Manager (LG2ES)