- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A permanent breeding resident and a common species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Distributed throughout southern Canada, the eastern United States, and portions of several states located in the northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest. Some of the highest breeding densities can be found in the southeastern United States (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 7/20 by Partners in Flight.
Permanent resident and not considered migratory. Some have reported southern movements during the fall, but these are believed to represent dispersal of young birds or seasonal movements following the breeding season (Bull and Jackson 2011).
Bark gleaner and excavator that forages primarily on ants and larva of wood-boring beetles. Also consumes nuts and berries.
Primary cavity excavator.
Roberts (1932) speculated that the Pileated Woodpecker was a common and widely distributed species throughout Minnesota prior to European settlement. By the late 1800s, however, it had become “so rare as seldom to be seen except in remote places.” Extensive clearing of the eastern deciduous forest, the core of its breeding range, coupled with rampant shooting for both sport and food led to its early decline. However, as the public’s attitude toward wildlife began to change, the woodpecker’s plight began to improve, and numbers slowly rebounded. By the early 1900s, Roberts wrote, “while seeing a Pileated is still a matter of special interest, it is by no means as rare an event as it was a decade or two ago.” It was present even in isolated woodland groves of the western grasslands. Despite its large size and conspicuous behavior, its rarity in the early 1900s was supported by the fact that Roberts recorded confirmed nesting (nests with eggs) in only 2 counties (Hennepin and Stearns) and inferred nesting (nests and young) in Goodhue County and Itasca State Park.
Green and Janssen (1975) later reported the species could be found in all forested regions of the state, including “the heavily timbered valleys and lakeshores of the prairie.” It was rare only in the southwestern counties, where habitat was limited. Janssen (1987) further noted that it decreased in abundance as one moved from the deciduous and mixed northern forests of eastern Minnesota west to the prairie-forest transition and grasslands of western Minnesota. He delineated 21 counties where nesting had been confirmed since 1970; by 1998 Hertzel and Janssen added an additional 9 counties to the list.
Field biologists with the Minnesota Biological Survey have reported a total of 772 breeding season locations for the species. Nine of the locations were from the southwestern corner of the state, suggesting that pockets of mature woodlands were available and provide suitable habitat for the bird (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2015).
During the MNBBA, observers reported 2,393 Pileated Woodpecker records from 31.3% (1,486/4,751) of the surveyed atlas blocks and from 37.7% (882/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding was confirmed in 118 surveyed blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The species was reported in 75 of Minnesota’s 87 counties and was confirmed breeding in 37 counties. Fifteen of the counties were additions to the list published by Hertzel and Janssen in 1998. In addition to documenting 7 records in southwestern Minnesota south of the Minnesota River valley, the MNBBA also uncovered numerous records from the northwest in the Red River valley. Every block where the species was observed in the Red River valley contained a wooded riparian corridor. Nevertheless, the species remains most abundant in the Eastern Broadleaf Forest and Laurentian Mixed Forest Provinces, much as it was nearly 100 years ago.
The MNBBA predicted distribution map depicts the Pileated Woodpeckers’ wide distribution throughout the state at albeit low population densities (Figure 4). Only the far west-central and southwest regions of the state have small areas where densities are predicted to be near zero. Scattered areas restricted primarily to north-central and northeastern Minnesota are predicted to support slightly higher breeding densities.
The population decline that Roberts (1932) chronicled in Minnesota in the late 1800s was witnessed throughout the species’ range, as was its subsequent recovery (Bull and Jackson 2011). Indeed, populations continued to increase throughout the 20th century. Its distribution, however, has remained relatively unchanged, at least within the United States. The second breeding bird atlas conducted in Ontario not only demonstrated a 50% increase in the probability of observing Pileated Woodpeckers but also documented a range expansion in the southeast and southwest regions of the province (Cadman et al. 2007).
*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.