I stopped about halfway to the park to enjoy the beautiful sunrise, arriving at the ranger station about half an hour later. Following Bill's directions, I found the nesting tree and entrenched nearby to wait for this rare bird. And apparently I had timed it just right, because within fifteen minutes I began to see plenty of activity.
Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis)
An adult woodpecker stuck its head out of the nest cavity briefly, then plunged from the tree and winged quickly away. I could immediately hear cries and squeaks coming from the tree, so there were obviously youngsters inside — and from the amount of noise and the sheer number of trips the parent made to and from the tree over the time I spent watching, I would guess there were several present in the nest.
Judging from the behavior at the cavity entrance and some (perceived) slight differences in facial markings, I'm pretty sure there were at least two adults participating in the breakfast foraging service, possibly more. One had a tendency to dive dramatically from the tree trunk — plunging sometimes six to ten feet before extending its wings to curve back upwards — while the other would often loop directly around the tree with hardly any dip in altitude. On at least two or three occasions, the departing adult would fly away with what seemed to be rejected bits of food (see above). They kept it up continuously, with a visit to the cavity at least once every five minutes or so.
Unlike most North American species of woodpeckers, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers build their cavities in live pines rather than dead trees. Their cavities can be found by the streaks of greenish white pine sap that run down from the holes they drill, which when hardened help to protect the nests from tree-climbing snakes. They often nest in small clusters and may have several adults that help the breeding pair in brooding and feeding the young.
Unfortunately, the babies were apparently not yet old enough to venture out of the nest, but it was still a fantastic morning of birding with plenty of activity. For a couple more shots of the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, click here.
There were more sights to enjoy at Jones State Forest on this beautiful Saturday morning, including plenty of Red-headed Woodpeckers and an abundance of wildflowers scattered through the forest, but the Red-cockaded feeding frenzy was by far the most enjoyable. I'll add some more pictures from the morning's excursion in the next day or so.
For more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly #40.