Up and down year for Virginia woodpeckers
July 18, 2018
By Bryan Watts, Center for Conservation Biology
The 2018 breeding season was a roller coaster for endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers in Virginia. Moving into the breeding season the state supported 17 potential breeding groups (clusters with at least a male and a female), including 14 within Piney Grove Preserve and 3 within the Great Dismal Swamp, NWR. This is the largest breeding population supported by Virginia since the 1970s. By 29 April the Piney Grove birds had already produced four clutches and by 4 May this rose to eight clutches, giving one of the earliest starts to the breeding season in recent memory. By mid-May, 13 of the 14 Piney Grove groups had made breeding attempts. However, after mid-May the tide of good nesting news had turned. The one holdout pair had not laid a clutch and two of the existing clutches had failed. Ultimately, three of the 13 pairs that made attempts would fail and the no show never showed. In addition, the three pairs in the Great Dismal Swamp never laid clutches.
Overall, the Virginia population fledged 22 woodpeckers resulting in a mediocre reproductive rate of 1.29 young per potential breeding group. This compares to an average rate of 1.56 for the previous three years. Only 23 (58%) of 40 eggs laid eventually hatched. All 23 young hatched survived to banding age and all but one of these fledged from nest cavities. The single young that did not fledge was grossly underweight at banding, weighing only 13.5 grams compared to 24 and 25.5 grams for its siblings. Fledged birds included 12 females and 10 males.