Red-cockaded woodpecker nesting success, forest structure, and southern flying squirrels in Texas
For several decades general opinion has suggested that southern flying squirrels (Gluucomys volans) have a negative effect on Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (Picoides borealis) through competition for cavities and egg/nestling predation. Complete removal of hardwood trees from Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavity tree clusters has occurred on some forests because southern flying squirrel abundance was presumed to be associated with the presence and abundance of hardwood vegetation. In some locations, southern flying squirrels have been captured and either moved or killed in the name of Red-cockaded Woodpecker management. We determined southern flying squirrel occupancy of Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavities in loblolly (Pinus taeda)-shortleaf (P. echinata) pine habitat (with and without hardwood midstory vegetation) and longleaf pine (P. pulustris) habitat (nearly devoid of hardwood vegetation) during spring, late summer, and winter during 1990 and 1991. Flying squirrel use of Red-cockaded Woodpecker cavities was variable and was not related to presence or abundance of hardwood vegetation. Woodpecker nest productivity was not correlated with flying squirrel use of woodpecker cavities within clusters. In addition, we observed six instances where Red-cockaded Woodpeckers successfully nested while flying squirrels occupied other cavities in the same tree. Our results suggest that complete removal of hardwoods from woodpecker cluster areas in loblolly and shortleaf pine habitat may not provide benefits to the woodpeckers through reduction of flying squirrel numbers. Reduction of hardwood midstory around cavity trees, however, is still essential because of the woodpecker's apparent innate intolerance of hardwood midstory foliage.