West Indian Woodpecker Melanerpes superciliaris
Version: 2.0 — Published October 29, 2020
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Demography and Populations
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Disease and Body Parasites
West Indian Woodpecker is common in some habitats on Grand Cayman and the main island of Cuba, but is localized and vulnerable on some small islands off the coast of Cuba and in The Bahamas. Standardized population surveys of different habitats on Grand Cayman showed that this species is common in limestone forests (100-300 individuals per 20 h of observation) and uncommon in other habitats including residential areas (20-100 individuals per 20 h) (4). West Indian Woodpecker is common and widespread in Cuba, including on the Isla de la Juventud and many offshore cays (38). It is uncommon on Abaco, where primarily is found in residential and cultivated areas (44), and is uncommon and localized on San Salvador where it is restricted to tall coppice (56, 41, 42). The population of M. s. nyeanus on Grand Bahama apparently has been extirpated. All recent records from Grand Bahama may be vagrants or colonists from the distinctive population, M. s. blakei, that is found on nearby Abaco (39).
West Indian Woodpecker is found on many of the offshore cays (small islands) near Cuba, and some of these populations have been described as separate subspecies. Garrido (20) described a distinctive population of woodpeckers in Coccothrinax palm woodlands on Cayo Largo as M. s. florentinoi. Following development of this island for tourism, it is unclear whether or not this population has been extirpated (11, 12). Also, M. s. sanfelipensis, which is known only from Cayo Real, is thought to be endangered (10). Buden and Olson (57) also suggested, based on a single specimen, that an undescribed subspecies may occur on Cayo Avalos. The small number of specimens from these offshore islands make their subspecific status difficult to assess, but they indicate that geographical differentiation has occurred on these cays (57). These distinctive populations may be vulnerable to extinction.
The small population of West Indian Woodpeckers on San Salvador has been closely monitored because it is a distinctive subspecies (M. s. nyeanus) and the population is restricted to a relatively small area at the northern end of the island where tall coppice grows near stands of sabal palm (41, 42). The small size of this population and its restricted distribution have led to predictions that the population was nearing extinction (58, 18). In 1975, Miller et al. (41) used spot mapping in a 400-ha study area to determine the number of territories. They identified 40 territories in this study area, and estimated that there were 80-100 territories (160-200 individuals assuming monogamous pairs on each territory) on San Salvador depending upon whether one assumes that 50% or 100% of the appropriate habitat (tall coppice with sabal palms, Sabal palmetto) was occupied. Akresh et al. (42) analyzed population data from population surveys conducted periodically between 1993 and 2018. Using statistical models that compensated for the frequency, spatial extent, and methods of different surveys, they estimated a population size of approximately 240 individuals (CI = 68-408). There was no evidence for a long-term population trend, but the population declined sharply after major hurricanes. Recovery often occurred within two years following storms, however, suggesting that this population is resilient. The most recent hurricane occurred in the fall of 2015, and after a decrease in detected numbers in 2016 and 2018, the population now appears to be back at pre-hurricane levels (surveys conducted in March 2020 detected 0.49 territories/10 ha) (42, MEA unpublished data).