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Backpacker Magazine – May 2000

Big Cypress: Woodpeckers And Old Growth

Consider trying to spot a red-cockaded wood-pecker in Florida's Big Cypress Preserve a form of treasure hunting.

by: Hiram Rogers

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You could consider trying to spot a red-cockaded woodpecker in Florida's Big Cypress Preserve a form of treasure hunting. That's because catching a glimpse of this tiny, colorful bird is rare, even here in one of the endangered species' largest remaining habitats.

Your chances of spotting this environmental poster bird-the small, 8-inch-long woodpeckers are the source of controversy over saving old-growth pine forests in the Southeast-are best in spring, during nesting season. (They're most active in the evening and early morning.) The habitat- sensitive woodpecker nests only in old-growth stands of slash pine that sit like dry islands amid Big Cypress's otherwise soggy turf. Just enough old-growth pine escaped the 1930s-era logging to support the birds.

These exceptionally social creatures, with their distinctive pattern of white spots, nest in tree cavities about 30 feet above the ground, and live in clans of two to nine birds. A few clans make their homes near the Florida Trail in the center of the Preserve. One of the best woodpecker-watching hikes is north of US 41, where the Florida Trail makes a 15.9-mile loop.

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