The Dynamics of Cavity Excavation and Use by the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides Borealis)

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1997-09-25

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Virginia Tech

Abstract

Quantification of cavity excavation produced strong empirical support for the ecological constraints model for the evolution of delayed dispersal in the cooperatively breeding red-cockaded woodpecker. The long times required for cavity excavation select for competition over breeding vacancies in established territories and against excavation of cavities in unoccupied habitat. Duration of excavation varies between woodpecker populations, but may require over 13 years in longleaf pine and over 10 years in loblolly pine. Duration of excavation is extremely variable. Much of the variation is due to variation in effort by excavating woodpeckers, which is in turn partially related to the need for new cavities in relation to the number of available cavities on a territory. An average of only 11 % of an individual's time budget is devoted to excavation, and only one individual per group makes significant contributions to excavation. Once completed, cavities are used for periods that may exceed fifteen years. Cavities in longleaf pine are used for significantly longer periods than cavities in loblolly. Whereas cavities no longer used as nests are abandoned altogether in loblolly, they are still roosted in for many years in longleaf. Final abandonment of longleaf cavities appears to be related to cavity loss. Quantification of cavity turnover revealed that three of the study populations were stable in cavity numbers over the study period, while a fourth underwent alarming declines. The continued use of restrictors and artificial cavities, and the protection of old-growth upon which the woodpeckers depend for excavation, are recommended.

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red-cockaded woodpecker, cavity, excavation

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