One of five in a series on the wildlife of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The red-cockaded woodpecker (named for the small red streak present on males’ heads) is recognized as a federally threatened species, and few, if any, remain in the park. The reason is their incredibly specific habitat: living longleaf pines infected with red heart fungus, which makes them soft enough to drill cavities into. They’ve been adversely affected by the logging industry and fire suppression; as it turns out, these woodpeckers benefit from the occasional forest fire. Fire clears out new growth that clogs the understory of the forest and allows predators to more easily reach the woodpecker’s cavity, such as aboreal snakes. Typically, red-cockaded woodpeckers create resin barriers that prevent snakes from entering cavities, but tall undergrowth can allow them to access the nests anyway.
At least 27 species of vertebrates have been documented using red-cockaded woodpecker cavities, including other birds, insects, snakes, lizards, squirrels and frogs. They can even become sufficiently augmented to accommodate screech owls, ducks, and raccoons, making them a resource many species are willing to compete for.
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