Action Synopsis: Bird Conservation About Actions

Reduce inter-specific competition for nest sites of woodpeckers by removing competitor species

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
  • Certainty
  • Harms

Study locations

Key messages

  • All four studies we captured describe the management of red-cockaded woodpeckers Picoides borealis in open pine forests in the USA.
  • One small study found an increase in woodpecker population following the removal of southern flying squirrels Glaucomys volans, whilst a second found a population increase following squirrel removal, along with other interventions and a third found that reintroductions were  successful when squirrels were controlled.
  • A randomised, replicated and controlled before-and-after study found fewer holes were occupied by squirrels following control efforts, but that occupancy by red-cockaded woodpeckers was no higher.


About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A small before-and-after study in a loblolly Pinus taeda and longleaf P. palustris pine forest in South Carolina, USA (Allen et al. 1993) found that by the end of 1991, the local population of red-cockaded woodpeckers Picoides borealis consisted of six breeding pairs and 15 other birds after the removal of southern flying squirrels Glaucomys volans (compared with one breeding pair and two other birds in 1986). As the population grew, 26-108 southern flying squirrels were removed from potential woodpecker nest cavities each month. This study is discussed in detail in ‘Translocate individuals’).

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A study in mixed pine Pinus spp. forests in South Carolina, USA (Franzreb 1997) found that a population of red-cockaded woodpeckers Picoides borealis increased from four individuals in 1985 to 99 in 1996, whilst the number of breeding pairs increased from one to 19 following intensive management. Management included the removal of 2,304 southern flying squirrels Glaucomys volans (a competitor for, and kleptoparasite of, woodpecker cavities) from the site. Of the squirrels removed, 1,511 (66%) were from artificial cavities, 652 (28%) from natural cavities and 141 (6%) from nest boxes. Other interventions included the provision of artificial cavities and nest boxes (see ‘General responses to small/declining populations – Provide artificial nesting sites’), fitting artificial cavities with restrictor plates to prevent them being enlarged by other woodpeckers (see ‘Protect nest sties from competitors’). Other interventions included translocations of adults and fledglings and habitat management and are discussed in ‘General responses to small/declining populations – Translocate individuals’ and ‘Threat: Natural system modifications – Forest modifications’.

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A study between 1994 and 1996 in a mixed pine Pinus spp. forest in eastern Texas, USA (Carrie et al. 1999) found that reintroducing red-cockaded woodpeckers Picoides borealis into parts of their former range was successful when southern flying squirrels Glaucomys volans (a competitor for, and kleptoparasite of, nesting cavities) were removed before woodpecker release. This study is discussed in detail in ‘Translocate individuals’.

    Study and other actions tested
  4. A randomised, replicated and controlled before-and-after study in 2001-2 in 16 sites in longleaf pine Pinus palustris forests in northern Florida, USA (Kappes & Davis 2008) found that culling 168 southern flying squirrels Glaucomys volans from potential red-cockaded woodpecker Picoides borealis breeding cavities over a 12 month period significantly reduced the number of cavities occupied by squirrels (squirrels occupied 0.46 cavities/territory, red-cockaded woodpeckers occupied approximately 2 cavities/territory), compared to control territories but that there was no corresponding increase in cavity occupancy by red-cockaded woodpeckers (squirrels occupied 0.96 cavities/territory, red-cockaded woodpeckers occupied approximately 2 cavities/territory). Instead, there was an increase in occupancy by red-bellied woodpeckers Melanerpes carolinus, another cavity kleptoparasite (1 cavity/territory occupied vs. 0.69 cavities/territory for experimental and control sites respectively). This increase was most noticeable between July-December (a 103% increase compared to controls), when most fledgling red-cockaded woodpeckers acquire cavities.

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Williams, D.R., Child, M.F., Dicks, L.V., Ockendon, N., Pople, R.G., Showler, D.A., Walsh, J.C., zu Ermgassen, E.K.H.J. & Sutherland, W.J. (2020) Bird Conservation. Pages 137-281 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2020. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.


Where has this evidence come from?

List of journals searched by synopsis

All the journals searched for all synopses

Bird Conservation

This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:

Bird Conservation
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What Works in Conservation provides expert assessments of the effectiveness of actions, based on summarised evidence, in synopses. Subjects covered so far include amphibians, birds, mammals, forests, peatland and control of freshwater invasive species. More are in progress.

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