- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A permanent resident, migrant, and winter visitant primarily in northern forested areas of the state. The Black-backed Woodpecker was uncommon during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Found in patches across Canada from Labrador to British Columbia and Alaska, southward into the Rocky Mountains and the eastern portion of the Cascades to northern California. In the midwestern and northeastern United States, it is found in the extreme northern portions (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 9/20 by Partners in Flight; identified as a Species in Greatest Conservation Need by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Permanent resident with southward movements in some years.
A specialist on wood-boring beetles (Cerambycidae), which it extracts by scaling and pecking the bark of trees, especially those in areas affected by fire, wind, or other disturbances.
Excavates a hole in trees of many different species.
Roberts (1932) described the Black-backed Woodpecker as “common in summer only in the northern third of the state but has been found in limited numbers in the nesting season as far south as Lake Mille Lacs, Aitkin County.” Roberts noted nesting activity of the species in Becker County (nest with young) and Itasca State Park (feeding young) and reported that many nests were found by Peabody and Warren on the Mesabi Iron Range in upper St. Louis County. He also described a “nest with eggs in a tamarack swamp near Lake Minnetonka” in May 9, 1891, as the “only breeding record south of the evergreen forests.” Later, Green and Janssen (1975) labeled this record as suspect because it was not observed firsthand by Roberts.
Green and Janssen (1975) described the Black-backed Woodpecker’s breeding range as extending as far west as Becker County and south to Crow Wing County. The species was most numerous in Lake and Cook Counties. They included confirmed nesting in 5 counties: Becker, Clearwater, Cook, Lake, and St. Louis. Inferred nesting was indicated in Crow Wing County. Several years later, Janssen (1987) classified the species as a “rare to locally uncommon resident in the northeast and northcentral regions.” He emphasized that Black-backed Woodpeckers were better represented in these areas in winter rather than summer, likely due to migrational movements in the fall and an exodus in the spring. Janssen (1987) identified confirmed nesting in 8 counties since 1970: Beltrami, Clearwater, Cook, Hubbard, Itasca, Lake, Lake of the Woods, and St. Louis. In their updated account, Hertzel and Janssen (1998) identified 7 counties with confirmed nesting since 1970, excluding Hubbard County.
The Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS) recorded 139 breeding season locations of the Black-backed Woodpecker during their county inventories (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016). These locations were distributed from northeastern Becker County, Clearwater County, and northwestern Todd County to Cook County. Single locations were also noted in southern Aitkin, southern Pine, and northern Carlton Counties. The bulk of the observations were noted in Cook County and northern Lake and St. Louis Counties.
Participants in the MNBBA documented 158 records of the Black-backed Woodpecker. The records were distributed as far west as Marshall County, south to Aitkin and Crow Wing Counties, and northeast to Cook County (Figure 2). Possible breeding evidence was observed in 2.3% (107/4,736) of all surveyed blocks and 1.8% (43/2,337) of priority blocks (Figure 3; Table 1). Confirmed nesting was reported from 12 blocks in Carlton, Itasca, Lake, and St. Louis Counties. The confirmed nesting in Carlton County extended recent breeding observations southward beyond reports by Janssen (1987) and Hertzel and Janssen (1998). Over 100 years ago Roberts (1932) “found this woodpecker rather common in Carlton County,” including with “young that were nearly full grown.” Overall the species is most numerous in northern Cook, Lake, and St. Louis Counties and sparsely distributed in suitable coniferous habitat in many areas of northern and north-central Minnesota.
Tremblay et al. (2016), in their review of the Black-backed Woodpecker in North America, identified no known changes in the breeding range or population but did point out that it was formerly a common winter resident in southeastern Wisconsin. As for many rarer species that reside in the northern forested regions of Minnesota, coverage of these regions was sparse in the 19th century and well into the 20th. Combined observations from records of the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union, the MBS, and the MNBBA suggest that the distribution of this species has not changed substantially over the past 150 years. Because the species has an affinity for naturally disturbed forests, recent fire suppression may have contributed to reduced populations in many areas. The woodpecker makes limited use of logged areas unless dead trees remain that have suitable wood-boring insect populations.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.