- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
Regular permanent resident; the Downy Woodpecker was common during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
The Downy Woodpecker can be found from southern Alaska across Canada to the Atlantic Coast, south to the Gulf Coast, and throughout all but the extreme southwest region of the United States. Breeding densities are highest in southern New England and in the southeastern United States (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 7/20 by Partners in Flight.
Permanent resident; occasional long-distance dispersals but no regular seasonal movement.
Gleans and probes bark surfaces to secure insects, fruits, and seeds. Also gleans from small twigs, shrubs, and plant stems.
Primary cavity excavator.
Nearly 100 years ago, Roberts (1932) described the Downy Woodpecker, Minnesota’s smallest woodpecker, as a common, permanent resident throughout the state. In comparing its habits to that of the Hairy Woodpecker, he wrote, “It is not as partial to heavy timber as is the Hairy and is more frequently seen about orchards and wood-lots and in city streets and parks.” Confirmed nesting reports (nests with eggs or young) were available from Hennepin, Houston, and Isanti Counties and from Leech Lake. Inferred nesting reports (nest excavation and adults carrying food) were available from Goodhue County and the Mille Lacs region.
Green and Janssen (1975) and Janssen (1987) also described the woodpecker as a common resident statewide. Both accounts, as well as Roberts (1932), mention the presence of two subspecies in the state, Picoides pubescens medianus (the Northern Downy) and P. p. nelson (Nelson’s Downy). The Northern Downy is the common, statewide resident; Nelson’s Downy occurs to the north, from Alaska to Ontario. P. p. nelson is a bit larger and is thought to be an occasional winter visitant to the state. Other than a review of 18 Minnesota Downy Woodpecker specimens conducted by the U.S. Biological Survey nearly 100 years ago, there is little specific information regarding the distribution of P. p. nelson in the state. The latter review found one definitive specimen taken from Hennepin County in the fall and three questionable ones taken at Fort Snelling in the spring.
Janssen’s 1987 account identified 34 Minnesota counties where nesting had been confirmed since 1970. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) added an additional 10 counties to the list, covering all regions of the state. To date, the Minnesota Biological Survey has documented a total of 699 breeding season locations, again broadly distributed statewide wherever survey work has been completed (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
During the MNBBA, observers reported a total of 2,724 Downy Woodpecker records in 36.5% (1,730/4,745) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 49.1% (1,147/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding evidence was documented in 301 surveyed blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The birds were observed in all 87 Minnesota counties, and breeding evidence was gathered in 71 counties; 4 counties were included along the upper Minnesota River valley because of blocks that straddled counties (Brown, Redwood, Renville, and Yellow Medicine). Thirty-three of these counties were additions to the list published by Hertzel and Janssen in 1998. Records were truly statewide in distribution, including from some of the most intensively cultivated regions of the state. Among the nine woodpecker species that inhabit Minnesota, the diminutive Downy was the third most commonly reported species during the MNBBA, exceeded only by the Northern Flicker and the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. It is, however, the most common woodpecker in eastern North America (Jackson and Ouellet 2002).
Over the years, the extent of the Downy Woodpecker’s distribution in the state appears to have changed very little. It may be more abundant in the southern and western edges of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province, where residential and industrial development have replaced much of the forested landscape. Elsewhere in its breeding range there are few data to suggest that there have been any major distributional changes (Jackson and Ouellet 2002).
*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.