West Indian Woodpecker Melanerpes superciliaris

Robert A. Askins, Michael E. Akresh, and William K. Hayes
Version: 2.0 — Published October 29, 2020

Conservation and Management

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Conservation Status

This species is classified as not globally threatened (Least Concern) because it is common on Cuba, Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Pines), and Grand Cayman (59). Distinctive populations on some small islands are vulnerable, however. The distinctive population (which may be an endemic subspecies) on Grand Bahama is probably extirpated. The San Salvador subspecies appears to have a relatively stable population, but the small size of the population and its restriction to a specific habitat (tall coppice with sabal palm groves) makes it vulnerable to habitat destruction. This population has been resilient in the aftermath of major hurricanes, but the combination of habitat destruction and more frequent intense storms caused by climate change could make it especially vulnerable to extinction (41, 42). The Abaco population has also been resilient following major hurricanes and it has adapted to residential and cultivated habitats, making it less vulnerable to habitat destruction. The status of distinctive populations on small cays near Cuba is not well known, but these populations may be threatened by development.


The most important priority for protecting vulnerable populations of West Indian Woodpeckers is habitat protection. On San Salvador the key habitat is at the northern end of the island where there is a mix of tall coppice and sabal palm groves (42). Palm woodlands are important to this species in Cuba, and on Cuba’s Zapata Peninsula West Indian Woodpeckers and other cavity-nesting birds are negatively affected by people cutting down palm snags to obtain parrot nestlings for the pet trade (52).

The situation in Abaco suggests that a key element in habitat suitability is the availability of suitable nest sites. West Indian Woodpeckers on Abaco use utility poles and planted coconut palms to excavate nest cavities, which probably accounts for their adjustment to living in residential areas. Tall coppice covers large areas of the interior of San Salvador, but woodpeckers have not been observed nesting in wooden utility poles and are generally restricted to areas where dead sabal palms provide nest sites, suggesting that alternative nest cavities could expand their population (41). Recent conservation programs on San Salvador focused on conservation education for school children and erecting nest boxes to test their effectiveness (14, MEA personal communication). It is also important to monitor the effects of established and new invasive species such as rats (Rattus spp.), feral pigs (Sus scrofa), and, on Abaco, raccoons (Procyon lotor) on nest survival, nest site availability, and food availability.

Recommended Citation

Askins, R. A., M. E. Akresh, and W. K. Hayes (2020). West Indian Woodpecker (Melanerpes superciliaris), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (T. S. Schulenberg and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.weiwoo1.02