Still Life with Woodpecker


Follow Me: Alternative Spring Break Blog

Photo via Woo!

BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE, Fla. (March 18, 2013) — Sandwiched between mangroves, alligators float on the water’s surface, manatees float just below, and a woodpecker works for its lunch: Tck tck tck. Tck Tck Tck.

“This is the woodpecker mecca,” says Ross Scott of Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. “Big Cypress is the last great population in South Florida.”

Yes, this spring break I’ve traded the screeching subways and jackhammers of New York for the warblers, catbirds and woodpeckers of the greater Everglades.

There are five types of woodpeckers in Big Cypress, and the red cockaded woodpecker, or RCW for short, is the rarest. Although the population has been growing, RCWs have been listed as an endangered species for as long as the list has been kept. There are only about 250 of them in the preserve. Each is about the size of a cardinal, but there is only a small dot of red on a RCW’s head.

This week we will be working to protect RCWs’ habitat, not just because RCWs are endangered, but also because so many other species are dependent on them: It can take up to two years for a RCW to make a cavity for nesting in a tree, but after they are finished using their nests, other birds and insects use the cavities for their homes.

Tck Tck Tck. Tck Tck Tck. When it comes to woodpeckers, that sound means a healthy ecosystem.