VIDEO: Endangered woodpeckers get new (old) home at Sprewell Bluff

Banded female red-cockaded woodpecker captured at Fort Stewart and bound for Sprewell Bluff WMA. Credit: Nathan Klaus/DNR.

Credit: Nathan Klaus/DNR

Credit: Nathan Klaus/DNR

Banded female red-cockaded woodpecker captured at Fort Stewart and bound for Sprewell Bluff WMA. Credit: Nathan Klaus/DNR.

Three pairs of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers were relocated this week to the Sprewell Bluff wildlife management area near Thomaston by state wildlife officials who are trying to reintroduce the species to woodlands where they haven’t been seen since 1976.

The birds were released at dawn on Wednesday. Watch video here:

Credit: DNR

Red-cockaded woodpeckers, named for the small red streak on the male’s head that resembles the cockade on British soldiers’ hats in the Revolutionary War, were once prevalent throughout the Southeast. But they only nest in cavities of living, old-growth pines, and their numbers have plummeted as a result of habitat loss.

“In Georgia, we’ve lost 97 percent longleaf pine forest over the last 150 years, and much of what remains is fire suppressed, degraded to the point that it doesn’t function properly or support many of the rare species that need it,” DNR biologist Nathan Klaus wrote in an email. “The return of the species to the wild landscape where they once lived is like having the heart of Sprewell Bluff begin to beat again.

It was truly a sacred moment for me, something that I have hoped for and worked toward for more than two decades.”

DNR senior wildlife biologist Nathan Klaus watches red-cockaded woodpeckers after the screens covering the opening of their roost cavities were removed at Sprewell Bluff WMA. Credit: Ethan Hatchett/DNR.

Credit: Ethan Hatchett/DNR

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Credit: Ethan Hatchett/DNR

The birds were captured near Fort Stewart in Southeast Georgia, which has a stable population of the woodpeckers, and moved to Sprewell Bluff, about two hours south of Atlanta and home to several old-growth stands of longleaf pine. Wildlife officials hope the pairs will mate and raise young next spring.

Georgia was recently awarded $1.3 million to acquire and preserve habitat for a number of endangered species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker. In 2020, the federal government proposed reclassifying the red-cockaded woodpecker from endangered to threatened, but that move has not been finalized.

Red-cockaded woodpecker at a River Creek WMA nest. Credit: Joe Burnam/Georgia DNR.

Credit: Joe Burnam/Georgia DNR

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Credit: Joe Burnam/Georgia DNR