The Red-cockaded Woodpeckers
of Boiling Spring Lakes, NC

by Dave Batts

Sometimes the smallest thing can make the biggest impact. Take for instance the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. It is no bigger than the North Carolina Cardinal and rarely does anything to get in the way, yet for the property owners of Boiling Spring Lakes, these little birds have become a real hassle for their personal choice of living conditions.

These black and white stripped birds with white cheeks earned their names from the red markings hidden on the side of the male woodpecker’s neck. There are usually about 3-4 birds living in one family, with several families living together in a “cluster.” Each cluster has a breeding female that lays 3-4 eggs, and the youngest males of the group will help to incubate and care for the eggs. The younger females fly off to start their own families in other clusters.

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker earned its way to the endangered species list during the early 1970’s. A consensus done in March of 2007 showed that there is an estimated 15,000 individual birds left scattered throughout the southeastern portion of the United States. To give you an idea of these figures, in 2005, there were 89,162 people living in Brunswick County alone!

Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Female)
Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Female)

One of the many reasons for their great demise is for their sophisticated taste of housing location. They are non-migratory, so they aren’t flying any further south for the winter. They prefer to build there nests in the matured, burned out long-needled pines, much like the ones that dominate the Boiling Spring Lakes area. As they have no plans on packing up and leaving, it usually takes Red-cockaded Woodpeckers several years to build their nest, which they tend to pass down to their offspring.

In an attempt to save the RCW’s natural habitat, scientists from the North Carolina Ecological Field Office conferred with city officials at the end of 2005 to express their concerns over the development properties of Boiling Spring Lakes. By the beginning of 2006, a major RCW recovery operation was underway with the help of the United States Fish and Wildlife Services.

Federal regulations were set up to urge property owners against the clearing of protected nests. As the Endangered Species Act Section 9 decrees, “it is unlawful to “take” actions that harm, harass, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, trap, capture, collect, or kill a species.” It is also unlawful to modify a habitat in a way that would lead to death or injury of a listed species, which is where the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers of Boiling Spring Lakes fell.

In order to clear a lot (if it fell under the RCW inhabited area), the property owner must first apply for an incident take permit, which can take as long as a year to be accepted and add additional cost too. Many weren’t too eager to pay an additional fee for another permit, but the alternative for failing to comply with the mandate is a $100,000 fine.

Town official understand the headaches of the property owners, so they are in the process of trying to apply for one incident take permit for the town of Boiling Spring Lakes as a whole, saving the individual property owners from having to handle it themselves.

The Nature Conservancy has stepped up to the plate as well. Having acquired 6,500 acres around the Boiling Spring Lakes community, they are in the process of making a nature preserve that can one day support the disappearing species.

Copyright © 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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