CLEWISTON, FL — In an effort to boost diversity among South Florida’s wildlife, biologists on Thursday released 8 red-cockaded woodpeckers at the DuPuis Management Area as part of a partnership between the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to expand the population of these endangered birds.
Federally endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers and the nests they construct play a vital role in the web of life in southern pine forests. They are considered a “keystone” species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) because the cavities they peck into pine trees are used by a variety of other animals, contributing to the richness of species in the pine forest.
According to the USFWS, at least 27 species such as insects, birds, snakes, lizards, squirrels and frogs have been documented using woodpecker cavities.
Biologists obtained the birds in Citrus County from the Citrus Wildlife Management Area, which contains a large population of red-cockaded woodpeckers. The woodpeckers were carefully transported to South Florida by truck in special boxes and fed mealworms every hour.
Prior to the birds’ arrival, District staff prepared new woodpecker homes in the DuPuis Management Area, a 22,000-acre natural area located on the border of Palm Beach and Martin counties. The property is open to public recreation throughout the year. DuPuis was part of the historic Everglades and features an ecologically diverse and significant vegetative community, along with abundant wildlife.
DuPuis once supported a red-cockaded woodpecker population, but the birds disappeared many years ago because of changes to their habitat. District staff has worked to improve the woodpecker habitat so that the area can now support a sustainable population. Efforts included prescribed burning, vegetation control and the installation of artificial cavity inserts in slash pine trees.
Each fall since 2006, the SFWMD and the FWC have released about 10 birds, typically 5 males and 5 females, in wild areas such as DuPuis and the nearby J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area. Presently, there are 20 to 30 birds in the DuPuis population.