- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
Permanent resident; a common species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Distributed across central Alaska and Canada south of the tree line, and throughout most of the United States into Central America. It is absent from pockets in the northwestern United States and from large regions in the arid Southwest. Sparsely distributed throughout its range, some of the highest breeding densities occur along the West Coast, in the Great Lakes region, and in New England and the Maritime Provinces (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 6/20 by Partners in Flight.
Permanent resident; a northern subspecies that occurs in Canada migrates south into northern and central Minnesota from early October through late April.
Feeds largely on wood-boring beetles and bark beetles as well as ants and caterpillars and some fruits and seeds. A bark driller and gleaner.
Primary cavity nester.
The Hairy Woodpecker has long been recognized as a common, year-round resident throughout Minnesota. Not only is it common throughout the extensively forested regions of northern Minnesota, it can be found wherever small woodlands are present, including the extensively cultivated agricultural counties of western Minnesota. As Roberts (1932) noted nearly a century ago, it even is found residing in city parks and neighborhoods of some of the state’s most densely populated areas. Nevertheless, he thought it might demonstrate “a preference for tamarack and spruce swamps and the wilder stretches of woodlands.” Despite its wide distribution, confirmed nesting records (nests with young) were available from only 2 counties (Hennepin and Isanti) and inferred nesting records (nest excavation or recently fledged young) were available from 3 counties (Aitkin, Goodhue, and Sherburne).
Neither Green and Janssen (1975) nor Janssen (1987) had much to add to Roberts’s original account of the species’ status and distribution. As they did for this species’ diminutive look-alike the Downy Woodpecker, all three authors noted the presence of two subspecies in the state. Minnesota’s breeding population is assigned to the eastern subspecies, Picoides villosus villosus. A larger and oftentimes whiter subspecies, P. v. septentrionalis, occurs north and northwest of Minnesota. Although the eastern subspecies is a permanent resident, the northern subspecies is known to wander during the winter months. Its movements are sporadic and unpredictable, but birds identified as P. v. septentrionalis have been reported in northern and central Minnesota from early October through late April since the time of Roberts’s observations (Roberts 1932; Janssen 1987; Jackson et al. 2002). Roberts even described it as “an occasional summer resident in the extreme northern part of the state.” Green and Janssen (1975) cautioned, however, that some local breeding individuals show characteristics that are intermediate between the two subspecies, making it difficult to accurately delineate the seasonal movements of the northern subspecies. Apart from the detailed account of the two subspecies in Roberts (1932), the issue has received little attention.
Janssen’s 1987 updated account on the species noted that since 1970, nesting had been confirmed in 31 counties scattered throughout the state. In 1998, Hertzel and Janssen added 9 counties to the list. During the course of their statewide survey work, field staff with the Minnesota Biological Survey documented a similar statewide distribution for the species (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
During the MNBBA, observers reported a total of 2,460 Hairy Woodpecker records in 35.4% (1,680/4,740) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 44.5% (1,041/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding evidence was documented in 5.7% (269) of the surveyed blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). Observers reported Hairy Woodpeckers in all 87 Minnesota counties and confirmed breeding in 62 counties. Thirty of the counties where breeding was confirmed were additions to the list published by Hertzel and Janssen in 1998. Four of the confirmed reports were from 3 blocks that straddled 2 counties each along the Minnesota River valley: Redwood/Renville, Brown/Renville, and Brown/Nicollet. The birds were most abundant in the Laurentian Mixed Forest and Eastern Broadleaf Forest Provinces. The Downy Woodpecker, with a total of 2,724 records reported from 1,730 atlas blocks, was slightly more common than the Hairy Woodpecker. The Hairy Woodpecker was the fourth most abundant woodpecker following the Northern Flicker, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and the Downy Woodpecker.
Remarkably little has changed for the Hairy Woodpecker in the past 100 years. It is likely more abundant in areas of western Minnesota, as shade trees in the small towns, cities, and farm shelterbelts of the agricultural landscape have matured. The same is true throughout the species’ breeding range. Although there have been no significant large-scale changes in its distribution, the loss of mature forests and the intensification of agricultural practices in the eastern United States have likely led to local declines, while in areas of the Northeast, forest succession on abandoned farmland has created new habitat opportunities. The same is true in the Great Plains and arid southwestern states, where irrigation and tree plantings likely have facilitated local population increases (Jackson et al. 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.