Skip to Main Content
U.S. Forest Service
Caring for the land and serving people

United States Department of Agriculture

Home > Search > Publication Information

  1. Share via EmailShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Twitter
    Dislike this pubLike this pub
    Author(s): Michael R. Lennartz; Robert G. Hooper; Richard F. Harlow
    Date: 1987
    Source: Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
    Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
    Station: Southern Research Station
    PDF: Download Publication  (909.0 KB)


    Thirty groups of red-cockaded woodpeckers (Picoides borealis) were studied from 1976-1982 to (1) determine the demographic structure of groups, (2) identify the role helpers play in reproductive activities, and (3) investigate the selective pressures promoting sociality and helping behavior. Groups had only 1 mated pair and 0-2 helpers. Approximately half of all groups had helpers and a given group had helpers some years but not others. Helpers, with rare exception, were males 1 or 2 years old and progeny of 1 or both members of the breeding pair. As a result of higher nestling survival, groups with helpers fledged significantly more young per year than unassisted pairs (X=2.05, SD=0.97, n=43 vs.  X̄=1.40, SD=1.01, n=50). Nesting success was also associated with size and quality of nesting period home range, but evidence suggested that the increased number of young fledged resulted directly from the action of helpers. There was a significant positive correlation between reproductive success and experience of breeding females among unassisted pairs but a significant negative correlation among pairs with helpers. In groups with experienced females, helpers were assisting both their mothers and fathers and, therefore, were related to the offspring on the average by 0.50. In groups with inexperienced females, helpers were assisting their fathers and unrelated females and were related to the offspring by 0.25. The red-cockaded woodpecker's unique habit of excavating nest and roost cavities in living pines and the extended period of time required for excavation may be an important ecological constraint that promotes the retention of helpers. Because helpers are related to the offspring they help rear. kin selection and gains in indirect fitness may provide a partial explanation of why red-cockaded woodpecker helpers help. However, the negative correlation between the efficacy of helping behavior and the helpers' relatedness to the offspring they help rear implies that helpers are least effective in producing offspring which would represent greatest gains to indirect fitness. This raises questions about the relative importance of kin selection and indirect fitness in the evolution of helping behavior among red-cockaded woodpeckers.

    Publication Notes

    • You may send email to to request a hard copy of this publication.
    • (Please specify exactly which publication you are requesting and your mailing address.)
    • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
    • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.


    Lennartz, Michael R.; Hooper Robert G.; Harlow, Richard F. 1987. Sociality and cooperativebredding of red-cockaded woodpeckers, Picoides borealis. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 20: 77-88.

    Related Search

    XML: View XML
Show More
Show Fewer
Jump to Top of Page