This article first appeared in the Aiken Standard.
If there are any red-cockaded woodpeckers in the area that would like to live at the Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary, there are homes ready and waiting for them.
Personnel from the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service at the Savannah River Site helped the Silver Bluff staff complete a project Jan. 22 to install five artificial nest cavities in longleaf pine trees.
“It was great because we don’t have the expertise or equipment to do the installations,” said Paul Koehler, who is Silver Bluff’s sanctuary manager. “Forest Service people who had previously worked with red-cockaded woodpeckers came and had everything installed within a couple of hours.”
The artificial nest cavities are in close proximity to each other because red-cockaded woodpeckers, or RCWs, live in family clusters consisting of a breeding pair and helpers that usually are males hatched during the previous breeding season.
Prior to the installation of the artificial nest cavities, representatives of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service joined “some of our staff in walking around the woods here,” Koehler said, “and we did a survey to make sure we didn’t already have RCWs. And, as expected, we didn’t. That paved the way for an agreement that’s being drawn up that allows us to actively try to induce RCWs to come here (as part of the South Carolina Red-cockaded Woodpecker Safe Harbor Program).”
RCWs are federally listed as endangered.
The Department of Natural Resources “is the lead authority, and they determined that we only have enough suitable habitat to attract one family cluster here right now,” Koehler said. “But with our management plan, which includes prescribed burns, we hope the amount of suitable habitat increases, and it should over the years to a point where we could try to attract additional clusters.”
There are RCWs at the Savannah River site and Fort Gordon near Augusta, and they have been successfully reintroduced in recent years to Hitchcock Woods through a translocation program using young birds captured in the Francis Marion National Forest.
Bennett Tucker, woods superintendent for Hitchcock Woods, said RCWs also are found at the Aiken Gopher Tortoise Heritage Preserve and there is a male RCW living at Stable View, an equestrian training facility.
The translocation strategy won’t be part of Silver Bluff’s efforts, at least in the short term.
The Department of National Resources “would like us, at least for now, to use the theory of build it (a group of artificial nest cavities) and they will come,” Koehler said.
A period of waiting and watching has begun at Silver Bluff.
“We maybe will be walking the trail ourselves more often than we might have to look for the birds,” Koehler said. “Our visitors also can help us by looking for the RCWs, but we ask that they remain on the trail. You don’t even need binoculars to see the five trees from the trail, and they are easy to pick out because they have two white bands (of paint) around their trunks.”
The Nuthatch Trail also is a good place to see Bachman’s sparrows.
“They are not endangered, but they are not common either,” Koehler said. “They start singing in late April and May.”
The Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary is at 4542 Silver Bluff Road near Jackson.