Red-cockaded woodpecker foraging behavior in relation to midstory vegetation
Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (Picoides borealis) nest and forage in pine-dominated forests. Research indicates that substantial hardwood midstory encroachment is detrimental to Red-cockaded Woodpecker populations, although the exact mechanisms are unknown. We examined foraging behavior in relation to midstory between August 1989 and February 1990. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers foraged at greater heights in areas of taller and denser midstory in the loblolly-shortleaf pine (Pinus taeda and P. echinata, respectively) habitat, but not in longleaf pine (P. palustris) habitat with less-developed midstory vegetation than typical of loblolly-shortleaf pine habitat. In addition, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers concentrated foraging activities in or adjacent to forest stands or openings with reduced midstory vegetation. Overall, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers foraged disproportionately at heights and sites that minimized their exposure to dense midstory conditions. These results suggest that ecosystem management, preferably using prescribed fire, that reduces midstory vegetation will improve foraging habitat for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers.