Action Synopsis: Bird Conservation About Actions

Foster eggs or chicks of woodpeckers with wild conspecifics

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

Study locations

Key messages

  • Three studies from the USA found that red-cockaded woodpecker Picoides borealis chicks fostered to conspecifics had high fledging rates.
  • One small study found that fostered chicks survived better than chicks translocated with their parents.



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 study in loblolly Pinus taeda and longleaf P. palustris pine forests in South Carolina, USA (Franzred 1999), found that all three red-cockaded woodpecker Picoides borealis nestlings translocated with their parents died, whereas two nestlings fostered to wild pairs in the release site were successfully raised. One (a female) disappeared after months, the other (a male) successfully bred. This study is discussed in more detail in ‘Translocate individuals’.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A small study in a pine forest site in Mississippi, USA, in 1996 (Richardson et al. 1999), found that two orphaned red-cockaded woodpecker Picoides borealis nestlings introduced into two foster nests fledged successfully (along with the non-fostered nestlings) and that at least one survived to the following breeding season (when it remained at its foster cluster as a helper). The chicks were both male and fostered when approximately 11 days old into broods containing a single nestling. One was added to the nest with the nestling still present, the other was added whilst the nestling was temporarily removed, to ensure the parents fed the foster chick. Between removal from their nest holes and fostering (later the same day), the chicks were supplied with mealworms and crickets.

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A replicated, paired site study from April-July in 1997-1998 in 20 experimental and 18 control (containing 22 nestlings) red-cockaded woodpecker Picoides borealis nests in 5 forest sites in Louisiana, USA (Wallace & Buchholz 2001), found that fostered nestlings exhibited similar fledging rates to native nestlings in the same nests (85% of 20 fostered and 86% of 22 native nestlings fledged) and nestlings in control nests (68% of 22 control nestlings fledging). On average, fostered nests produced more fledglings than control nests (1.8 compared to 1.3 fledglings / nest). Feeding rates for fostered and native nestlings were similar. Cross-fostered nestlings were matched by age. Native and control nestlings were handled and returned to their native nests.

    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

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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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