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Whether you’re a full-time resident of the sunshine state, a seasonal snowbird, or an annual vacationer, you already know that there are many reasons to love Florida.
As if we needed another reason to visit, birdwatching is Flordia’s second most popular outdoor activity. That’s pretty impressive considering the number of activities and attractions the large peninsula offers.
Not only is birdwatching popular in Florida, but it can be a fun and free way to spend the day. Explore new areas, state parks, city parks, rivers, swamps, or springs and see how many birds you can spot. No gear is necessary to get started, but you might want a hat to protect yourself from the sun and a pair of binoculars!
From the breezy humidity to the flourishing plants and wildlife, it’s clear that woodpeckers get good vibes from this tropical state just like the rest of us. Below are the eight species that call Florida home both year-round and part-time so that you can be perfectly prepared for your next sighting opportunity:
- Downy Woodpecker
- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker*
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Red-headed Woodpecker
- Northern Flicker
- Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Pileated Woodpecker
- Red-cockaded Woodpecker
*- indicates winter migratory species
Taxonomy and Characteristics of Woodpeckers
All woodpeckers, piculets, wrynecks, and sapsuckers fall within the family Picidae. This family is one of nine others nestled within the order Piciformes. The order Piciformes claims other stunning and majestic birds such as toucans, honeyguides, and puffbirds.
Most members of Picidae prefer mature and deciduous woodlands with clearings, while others thrive in desert biomes, living in cacti. Almost all members (except three species) have zygodactyl feet.
This means they have four toes. Two toes face forward, and the other two are turned backward in an alternating arrangement. This gives the woodpecker, wryneck, or piculet the ability to grasp, climb, scale, and perch better than most.
Woodpeckers have immensely strong bills to aid them in drumming, excavating, and feeding. Its three-layer design consists of a tough scale-like keratin layer, a boney and fibrous collagen layer, and a connective porous layer.
Their tongues are long and sticky, with tiny hairs that aid them in collecting larvae and other insects living in trees and under the bark. Their tongue bone wraps around the skull to protect the brain. ‘
This solitary bird can become aggressive towards other woodpeckers during mating season or when their territory is threatened. An attack on their reflection causes this. Homeowners often report woodpecker deaths from flying into windows.
Woodpecker nesting takes place in tree cavities that they have excavated themselves. This process takes an entire month and is the primary focus of the male during the breeding season. Excavated holes are left bare at the bottom, with a few woodchips visible on the ground due to their hard work.
Now that we’ve covered a few of the essential characteristics of this fascinating bird, let’s break down the specifics for the most common woodpeckers in Florida.
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates Pubescens)
Sightings in Florida: 390,766
The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker species in North America at about two-thirds the size of its larger look-alike, the Hairy Woodpecker. The Downy Woodpecker lives in Florida full time but is more prominently sighted during the summer months.
The Downy Woodpecker has a classic woodpecker shape. This means it has a blocky head, straight bill, broad shoulders, and upright posture that benefits the act of mounting the side of a tree.
Almost entirely black and white, the Downy Woodpecker is a fan of bold patterns. You’ll notice its checkerboard or spotted white wings, thick striped head, and wide white stripe down its back. Its underside is white from the chin to the bottom of its tail. Male Downy Woodpeckers have a bright red patch on their nape.
- Length: 5.5-6.7 inches
- Weight: 0.7-1.0 ounces
- Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 inches
Being small has its advantages. The Downy Woodpecker is an agile bird that moves more swiftly than other species of woodpeckers on this list.
A Downy Woodpecker can be seen gleaning insects from tree trunks and branches and jumping to the ground to continue foraging in tall weeds. Their diet consists of insects, beetle larvae, ants, and caterpillars. They will also feed on plants, berries, acorns, and grains.
The Downy Woodpecker is a lover of deciduous woods near rivers or streams. Deciduous describes a tree that sheds its leaves annually. If you’re having a hard time spotting a Downy Woodpecker in the wild, search at local parks, orchards, woodlots, and maybe even in your backyard.
Notable Florida areas popular with Downy Woodpeckers are Blackwater State Forest, Blackwater River State Forest, and Apalachicola National Forest.
They are small, but they are noisy little birds! They have a distinctive Shrill, repetitive “pik” note that can be easily heard and a descending whinnying call. You may also hear the Downy Woodpecker drumming on trees as a sign of claiming its territory or signifying the beginning of the mating season.
Attract Downy Woodpeckers
If a woodpecker is at your backyard feeder, it’s likely to be a Downy Woodpecker. They are the most common woodpecker to stop by; they prefer suet, black oil, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, and millet. You might also be lucky enough to catch them taking a drink from your hummingbird feeder.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus Varius)
Sightings in Florida: 74,603
Once the breeding season has ended in late September to early October, the Yellow-bellies Sapsucker makes its way from Canada and the northern United States to the warm and rejuvenating climates of the southern United States, Mexico, West Indies, and Central America.
They pack their bags in may to return to northern North America. Luckily for Florida, the climate suits Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers who need to thaw out.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a robin-sized woodpecker that is larger than a Downy Woodpecker but smaller than a Hairy Woodpecker. It has a typical woodpecker body with extended wings, a straight bill, and a pointed tail.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a bold black and white bird, similar to most woodpeckers. Males have red throats, and males and females have red foreheads, although the female’s forehead is usually a lighter shade of red. This bird has a crown of red feathers usually ruffled atop its head. Its face, neck, and chest have thick black and white stripes.
On the chest, this stripe meets a speckled black and white belly that sometimes has a slight yellow tint. Its wings are black with white panels along the outer wing coverts.
- Length: 7.1-8.7 inches
- Weight: 1.5-1.9 ounces
- Wingspan: 13.4-15.8 inches
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers use their tails to prop themselves comfortably on the side of a tree while they drill uniform and shallow holes to create sap wells. After drilling, they feed on the tree sap and any bonus insects that might be around, too. They prefer the following trees for nesting and drilling:
Tropical and temperate forests and woodlands are this bird’s first choice, but during winter migration, look in the deciduous conifer forests of Florida. Take note of any neatly drilled holes that form a horizontal row. They may sometimes be found in orchards, urban parks, and near farmland.
Nicknamed the morse code bird, this woodpecker drums to its unique beat that is slow and irregular and is mainly heard during the breeding season. The primary call of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is raspy and nasally at the same time. It is a repetitive mewing.
Other calls include a high-pitched territorial squeal that sounds like “quee-ah, quee-ah.” They will drum on metal signs to amplify the warning if they don’t feel like they got their message across.
Attract Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers
Yellow-bellied Woodpeckers are unlikely backyard visitors unless you have any of the trees in your yard. While woodpeckers eat insects that are harmful to trees, they also leave holes that make the tree susceptible to disease. They will sometimes visit suet feeders with a good tail prop. If you, too, keep an eye on the tree’s health.
Interesting Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers Facts
- Adult Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers can hear their young crying for food from 330 feet away, which increases their foraging efforts.
- Males spend 15 to 28 days excavating nest cavities and do more work raising young than many other birds.
- The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the only woodpecker in eastern North America that is fully migratory. As sap freezes in northern climates, they head south.
Hairy Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus Villosus)
Sightings in Florida: 4,852
The Hairy Woodpecker has a wide distribution range across much of North America year-round. From Northern Alaska to Guatemala, this large woodpecker can get along in many different climates.
In Florida, the Hairy Woodpecker is seen year-round foraging on the trunks and limbs. Their diet consists mainly of insects and larvae of wood-boring beetles. Their diet benefits trees since these beetles can cause more harm than good.
The Hairy Woodpecker is very similar in appearance to the Downy Woodpecker, except the Hairy Woodpecker is larger, about the size of a robin, and has a long straight bill. Nonetheless, telling these two apart is tricky, especially for new birders.
Here are a few helpful tips for when you’re not sure whether you’ve sighted a Hairy Woodpecker or a Downy Woodpecker:
- The Hairy Woodpecker has a bill as long as its head.
- The Downy Woodpecker has a bill about one-third the length of its head.
- The Downy Woodpecker is smaller by about 3 inches.
- The Downy Woodpecker likes birch trees and cattails.
- The Hairy Woodpecker will be in tall trees nestled in the forest
- The Hairy Woodpecker does not have spotted white tailfeathers
- The Downy Woodpecker is more common than the Hairy Woodpecker
- Downy Woodpecker population: 14 million
- Hairy Woodpecker population: 9 million
The Hairy Woodpecker has a square head and stiff tail for propping. When it comes to color, you guessed it. This bird is black and white with red accents.
Its wings are checkered, and the square head has two bold white stripes, one above their eye and one below. Down its back is a large white patch. Adult males have red patches on their heads, while juvenile males have orange-red spots.
- Length: 7.1-10.2 inches
- Weight: 1.4-3.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 inches
Hairy Woodpeckers hang out on the primary branches and trunks of large trees in mature forests. Woodlots, parks, and cemeteries are a few more urban areas to search for this Florida woodpecker, while coniferous and deciduous forests are the best places to look while out in nature.
If you notice beaver activity, look around and listen closely for a Hairy Woodpecker.
As if we needed another similarity between the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, their calls are nearly identical. The Hairy Woodpecker gives a sharp and quick “pik” at a lower pitch. Their whinnying call does not begin to descend towards the end.
You can hear both males and females drumming on trees year-round. Their drumming has an even pace of 26 beats about 1 second apart. This communication is used between birds to announce mating interests, protect their territory, or alert others of intruders.
Attract Hairy Woodpeckers
Food scarcity will lead Hairy Woodpeckers to backyard feeders during the winter. Their food preferences range from suet, peanuts, and black oil sunflower seeds.
Dead trees within the Hairy Woodpecker’s distribution range are also attractive nesting sites, so if you have one in your yard that isn’t a safety hazard, consider leaving it alone and letting the birds give it a second life.
Hairy Woodpecker Interesting Facts
- The oldest Hairy Woodpecker known to us was almost 16 years old!
- They commonly hunt and eat a moth called the European corn borer that damages more than $1 billion worth of crops each year in the United States.
- There are 17 subspecies of Hairy Woodpeckers rating from Ontario to the Bahamas.
Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes Erythrocephalus)
Sightings in Florida: 41,532
The Red-headed Woodpecker can be found in northern and central Florida year-round. However, their numbers increase as they migrate to Florida upon breeding season across the northeastern United States and southern Canada, coming to an end.
Over the past 50 years, there has been a 54% decline in the population of Red-headed Woodpeckers. It is attributed to deforestation and a lack of sustainable food sources. This once abundant bird has now been placed on a Yellow Watch List to reverse declination and encourage conservation efforts.
Unlike most woodpeckers, the Red-headed Woodpecker leaps from its perch to catch insects mid-flight. Other essential food sources include fruit and seeds.
They also cache grasshoppers, cherries, acorns, and beech nuts in tree holes and cracks to prepare for the winter. They will sometimes use the shingles of a house to cache food. Fewer trees and more competition for nesting sites mean life isn’t always easy for this territorial bird.
This woodpecker species greatly favor us by making themselves more straightforward to identify than others. It is medium-sized and has a pronounced round head.
Its long stocky bill is pointed and about the same length as its head. Its color pattern is intentional, with a bright red head, white chest, and underparts. The top of its back from the tip of the wings is black with huge blocky white wing patches.
- Length: 7.5-9.1 inches
- Weight: 2.0-3.2 ounces
- Wingspan: 16.5 inches
Orchards, farms, swamps, you name it! This bird thrives in open old-growth forests of maple, cottonwood, oak, pine, or beech trees. In Florida, look for the Red-headed Woodpecker in groves and tall trees in shady parks.
Red-headed Woodpeckers have a loud call that sounds like someone screaming very quickly. It is a sharp and high-pitched “churr” sound repeated 3 or 4 times. It is sometimes followed by territorial drumming. When in flight, they’ll produce a throaty “yarrow-yarrow-yarrow.”
Attract Red-headed Woodpeckers
During the winter, Red-headed Woodpeckers will seek out bird feeders for suet, nuts, berries, corn, and fruits. Create a perching space and select a feeder specifically for woodpeckers with a tail prop.
Red-headed Woodpecker Fun Facts
- This territorial bird has been known to destroy the nests of other birds and will even puncture their eggs.
- Males and females will play a cheeky game of hide-and-seek where they run around tree trunks, telephone poles, and stumps.
- The Red-headed Woodpecker can excavate a cavity that is 23 inches deep.
Northern Flicker (Colaptes Auratus)
Sightings in Florida: 79,755
This woodpecker is different from most on this list in many ways. The Northern Flicker is primarily a ground forager sustained on a diet of ants and beetles. They will also scale tree limbs in search of fruits and berries.
Their year-round distribution range is scattered across North America, breeding in Alaska and Canada. They are common year-round in Florida, but an increased sighting frequency will occur in the winter due to migrating to the sunny destination.
The Northern Flicker is a relatively large bird, about half the size of a Hairy Woodpecker. Another way this woodpecker is different than others on this list is its coloring.
It has a predominantly grayish-brown body and scalloped wings with black markings. It has a black bib extending from the neck’s bottom to the chest’s middle. Its crown is gray, and the area around the eyes and through the neck is a dusty brown.
Their underparts are a light gray-brown with black speckles extending to the white patch on their rump that can be seen best when perching.
Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers will occur in the east and feature a black handlebar mustache, red nape, and yellow shafts on flight and tail feathers.
Red-shafted Northern Flickers are found in the west and have a red mustache and pink to red tail and wing feathers.
- Length: 11.0-12.2 inches
- Weight: 3.9-5.6 ounces
- Wingspan: 16.5-20.1 inches
The Northern Flicker will be hopping along the ground in parks, groves, open fields, forest clearings, and recently burned forests. While they are frequently on the hunt for ants, do not neglect to look near the outer limbs of trees with berries and fruits to find a Northern Flicker feeding.
The Northern Flicker’s rattling song crescendos several times over eight seconds. It is used during the early stages of the mating season to declare territory. Other whistles include a short and high-pitched “kyeer.” Males and females drum in a quick repetitious manner to communicate. Each drumming cycle lasts about 25 beats.
Attract Northern Flickers
This is a doubtful visitor to backyard feeders, but they may choose to take up residency in a nearby nesting box and may go for a splash in your bird bath.
Northern Flicker Interesting Facts
- The Northern Flicker has been known to nest in burrows excavated by Bank Swallows and Kingfishers. This may be due to competitiveness for nesting sites in trees.
- In Native American and indigenous cultures, the Northern Flicker is a symbol that is associated with healing, balance, nurturing, medicine, and visitors.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes Carolinus)
Sightings in Florida: 867,344
This year-round Floridian woodpecker is the most common occurrence and even more so in the summer months. Instead of drumming for larvae, the Red-bellied Woodpecker prefers to glean insects from tree bark. They effortlessly float around the middle of tree trunks when foraging and will cache nuts and seeds in crevices for winter.
Don’t rely on the name of this bird to spot it. Its namesake red coloration on the belly is rarely to never visible. The medium-size Red-bellied Woodpecker is the size of a Hairy Woodpecker and has a pale body with a neatly barred black and white back. It has a sharp black bill that is thick in the middle.
Males will have a red crown that begins at the top of their bill and extends to their shoulders. White patches on the wingtips can be seen in flight.
- Length: 9.4 inches
- Weight: 2.0-3.2 ounces
- Wingspan: 13.0-16.5 inches
The eastern United States is home to 16 million Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Common areas to find them are woodlands, swamps, and riverside woods, making Florida an optimal location.
Other notable places to look are mixed coniferous forests with openings, rural shaded areas with large trees, and groves below 2,000 feet. Nests can be located in dead hardwoods, pines, fence posts, or the limbs of living trees. When in trees, they stick to the main middle branches.
Learning the call of the Red-bellied Woodpecker makes identification a breeze since they are noisy and usually heard before they are seen. Their piercing and rolling “kwirr” or repetitive “cha, cha, cha” echos through the woods.
A bark-like noise is used to communicate with birds encroaching on their territory. Drumming is familiar for Male Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and they do so at a pace of 19 beats per second.
Attract Red-bellied Woodpeckers
This bird would love to stop by for a suet snack, peanuts, or sunflower seeds. From time to time, they will drink sugar water from hummingbird feeders and tend to visit yards with berry trees like hawthorn or mountain ash.
Red-bellied Woodpecker Interesting Facts
- Red-bellied Woodpeckers can extend their sticky and barbed tongues 2 inches past their bill to maximize hunting efforts.
- They use the cracks in trees and bark in conjunction with their pointy bills to crack open nuts.
- Starlings are responsible for nearly half of all Red-bellied Woodpeckers losing their nesting site.
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus Pileatus)
Sightings in Florida: 306,963
Some birds just look like dinosaurs, and the Pileated Woodpecker has a look in its eyes that seems as old as the earth itself. The Pileated is the largest woodpecker species aside from the elusive and endangered Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
With a healthy breeding population of 2.6 million, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding this year-round resident of Florida.
The Pileated Woodpecker is nearly unmistakable. The only other bird it is easy to confuse is the Pileated’s larger look-alike, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The Pileated Woodpecker is smaller than the Ivory-billed and also has a darker bill.
The Pileated Woodpecker is spectacular with its long neck, red crest, and contrasting black and white plumage. They are large crow-sized birds with predominately black bodies but trust me; you will not mistake this bird for a crow. The underside of their wings is almost entirely white, which makes for a striking in-flight display.
They have white stripes embellishing their angular faces extending down the neck. Males have a red line extending from the corner of their bill, a feature absent in females. Both sexes have a brilliant red crest; the word “pileated” means “capped” and is derived from the Latin pileatus.
- Length: 15.8-19.3 inches
- Weight: 8.8-12.3 ounces
- Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 inches
The bill of the Pileated Woodpecker is nearly the length of the bird’s head and is used to drill meticulously in search of ants and various insects. They drill huge rectangular holes in trees and may also forage near dead trees and debris on the ground.
You can find this bird thriving in mature deciduous forests across Canada, the eastern United States, and parts of the upper Pacific Coast.
Nearly 67% of the entire population is located in the United States, with the rest mainly occurring in Canada. Like many other species of woodpecker, this bird relies on dead and downed trees for nesting cavities and food.
The drum of a Pileated Woodpecker is forceful, low-pitched, and sounds like someone knocking on a door. It lasts about three seconds and slows towards the end.
Drumming is typical during the winter as male Pileated Woodpecker claim breeding territory. Females and males will engage in courtship displays and drumming to deter unwanted guests.
Their defensive call is a loud and distinctive clucking or “wuk, wuk, wuk, wuk, wuk.”It almost sounds like a cartoon character chuckling (think Goofy). Other calls are similar and less drawn out.
Attract Pileated Woodpeckers
Consider adding suitable woodpecker feeders with peanut butter and suet to your yard. Fruit trees and berry bushes are also common ways to attract this majestic bird.
Pileated Woodpecker Interesting Facts
- The nesting cavities of the Pileated Woodpecker are so large that the excavation process can cause small trees to break in half.
- Pileated Woodpecker mating pairs defend their territory the entire year.
- Holes drilled by the Pileated Woodpecker attract other species of birds and provide nesting cavities for those not willing to clear their own.
- The cartoon character, Wood Woodpecker, was inspired by a Pileated Woodpecker.
Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Dryobates Borealis)
Sightings in Florida: 8,879
This small, endangered woodpecker has a communal focus and works together to excavate nesting locations and raise hatchlings. This group consists of one breeding pair and many others serving as helpers.
Look for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker in Florida at the Sebastian River Preserve State Park. Speak with a ranger to learn where nesting sites and popular sighting areas are.
This woodpecker was declared endangered in 1970 and is rated 18 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score.
To establish a healthy population of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Florida State Parks has implemented measures to increase the number of longleaf pine trees, prescribe fires to keep habitats suitable, clean existing cavities, and provide artificial cavities.
Unlike its name suggests, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker doesn’t show any conspicuous or flashy red coloration without a closer look. They are small, robin-sized birds that are black and white.
Males have a small inconspicuous red stripe behind their eyes towards their black crown. Someone who wears a small ornamental badge, feather, or ribbon may be referred to as a cockaded.
They have white cheeks, white underparts speckled with black, and the iconic black and white ladder-backed markings, similar to other woodpeckers.
- Length: 7.9-9.1 inches
- Weight: 1.5-1.8 ounces
- Wingspan: 14.2 inches
Pine trees with red heart fungus are ideal for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker because the infection softens the pinewood and allows for easier cavity creation.
Occurring only in pine forests, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker calls areas with minimal sub-canopy home. Within the southeastern pine Flatwoods, the following states have recorded sightings: Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, and South Carolina.
This bird is a bark-forager, sustained by a wide variety of larvae, insect eggs, ants, termites, and arthropods.
It is essential to respect sanctuaries’ rules and rehabilitation areas where the Red-cockaded Woodpecker may be nesting. A famous woodpecker sanctuary in Georgia is located at the Fort Benning military base. Others include:
- Big Woods Wildlife Management Area – Wakefield, Virginia
- Stanton Energy Center – Orlando, Florida
- Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary – Jackson, South Carolina
When walking through a longleaf pine forest in the southeast United States, listen for a quick and shrill “churt, churt” echoing from above and look for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker in mid-flight. Squeaky foraging noises are exchanged between birds within proximity of each other.
Drumming is less common. However, both male and female Red-cockaded Woodpeckers deliver a gentle drum and may use it as a form of communication.
Attract Red-cockaded Woodpeckers
This non-migratory bird will be exclusively in the southeastern United States and may be more likely to visit yards with pine trees. Encouraging insect activity in your yard will also entice the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Avoid pesticides and provide a private bird bath or nearby water feature.
Red-cockaded Woodpecker Interest Facts
- A Red-cockaded cavity may take up to six years to fully excavate.
- Breeding males within a community get premier access to the nesting cavity with the best sap flow.
Answer: The Red-bellied Woodpecker is most commonly sighted.
Answer: The eight species of woodpeckers in Florida are the Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, and Northern Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Red-cockaded Woodpecker.
Answer: Pileated Woodpeckers are found year-round statewide in Florida. These large woodpeckers are happy in most habitats Florida has to offer and the species is more comfortable than most around humans and high-traffic areas.
Answer: The largest woodpecker residing in Florida is the Pileated Woodpecker. This bird has an average length of 16 to 19 inches and a 26 to 30-inch wingspan. Their bright red crests make them easy to spot in deciduous forests, parks, or orchards.
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (2015). All About Birds. Retrieved from All About Birds website: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/
- Endangered Red-cockaded woodpecker. (n.d.). Retrieved July 23, 2022, from Florida State Parks website: https://www.floridastateparks.org/learn/endangered-red-cockaded-woodpecker
- History of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Florida. (n.d.). Retrieved July 23, 2022, from Florida Fish And Wildlife Conservation Commission website: https://myfwc.com/research/wildlife/birds/ivory-billed-woodpecker/history/
- eBird. (n.d.). Retrieved July 23, 2022, from ebird.org website: https://ebird.org/species/ivbwoo/US-FL
- Silver Bluff Sanctuary. (2020, February 4). Retrieved July 23, 2022, from Audubon South Carolina website: https://sc.audubon.org/news/silver-bluff-sanctuary-now-features-homes-endangered-woodpeckers
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