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Birds of the St. Croix River Valley: Minnesota and Wisconsin

FAMILY PICIDAE

Woodpeckers


Common Flicker -- Pileated Woodpecker -- Red-bellied Woodpecker -- Red-headed Woodpecker -- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker -- Hairy Woodpecker -- Downy Woodpecker -- Black-backed Three-toed Woodpecker -- Northern Three-toed Woodpecker

Common Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Status: Regular migrant, nesting species, and winter resident.

Migration: Common to locally abundant migrant throughout the Valley. Noticeable spring movements are observed by 15-25 March. Spring migrants usually travel in small scattered groups; consequently, few large concentrations are observed. Fall migration begins in late August with dispersal of young from the nesting areas. Peak fall migration occurs 15 September to 10 October and most depart by 1 November. During peak movements in fall migration, groups of 40-50 individuals are common, with groups totaling 100 occasionally observed.

Nesting Season Distribution: Breeding Bird Survey data show that the common flicker is the most common and well-distributed breeding woodpecker in the Valley (Table 3). Goddard (1972) found the common flicker the most abundant breeding woodpecker in the Kinnickinnic River Valley, Pierce County. Nesting has been observed in all counties in the Valley.

Table 3. Mean number of woodpeckers, flycatchers, and swallows recorded on western Wisconsin Breeding Bird Survey transects, 1966-78.

 
Western Upland
Central Plain
Northern Highland
Species group
Hudson
Dresser
Loraine
Union
Minong
Woodpeckers
Common flicker
7.1
5.8
7.6
1.9
3.2
Pileated woodpecker
0.0
0.3
1.4
0.8
0.5
Red-bellied woodpecker
0.0
0.6
1.1
0.0
0.0
Red-headed woodpecker
3.4
3.5
3.8
0.5
0.0
Yellow-bellied sapsucker
0.0
0.0
1.4
<0.1
1.1
Hairy woodpecker
1.2
0.6
1.8
1.2
1.0
Downy woodpecker
1.2
0.9
3.3
1.8
1.8
Flycatchers
Eastern kingbird
5.0
4.9
5.1
4.7
5.0
Great crested flycatcher
6.4
7.2
13.1
19.9
11.0
Eastern phoebe
1.2
0.8
2.4
2.0
2.8
Yellow-bellied flycatcher
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.1
Willow flycatcher
<0.1
0.0
0.4
0.0
0.0
Alder flycatcher
0.0
0.4
1.2
0.0
4.8
Least flycatcher
<0.1
0.7
5.4
6.0
12.7
Eastern wood pewee
1.9
2.0
6.1
15.4
8.5
Swallows
Tree Swallow
2.4
4.5
8.4
4.7
13.0
Bank swallow
13.8
3.9
6.7
0.0
0.0
Rough-winged swallow
2.7
3.4
3.3
0.0
0.1
Barn swallow
17.3
18.5
18.2
1.2
3.4
Cliff swallow
3.4
4.8
11.5
0.0
8.1
Purple martin
4.7
25.3
11.5
3.2
6.0

Winter: Common flickers are rare and local winter residents in the Western Upland and rare or absent in other regions (Table 4). Wintering individuals are occasionally recorded as far north as Burnett and Pine counties.

Table 4. Relative abundance of various birds on St. Croix River Valley Christmas Bird Counts. Values presented are the mean number of birds per party hour.

 
Western Upland
Northern Highland
Species groups
Afton
Suburban St. Paul
New Richmond
Grantsburg
Solon Springs
Woodpeckers
Common flicker
<0.1
<0.1
<0.1
<0.1
0.0
Pileated woodpecker
0.2
<0.1
<0.1
<0.1
<0.1
Red-bellied woodpecker
0.6
0.2
0.2
<0.1
0.0
Red-headed woodpecker
<0.1
<0.1
<0.1
<0.1
0.0
Hairy woodpecker
1.2
0.5
0.3
0.3
0.3
Downy woodpecker
1.8
0.8
0.6
0.4
0.2
Black-backed three-toed woodpecker
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
<0.1
Corvids
Blue Jay
6.8
3.1
5.8
3.7
2.7
Common raven
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.1
4.8
Common Crow
12.2
3.6
8.1
2.5
0.8
Parids and nuthatches
Black-capped chickadee
8.0
4.2
2.8
2.1
2.7
Tufted titmouse
0.2
<0.1
0.0
0.0
0.0
White-breasted nuthatch
2.8
1.7
1.0
0.7
0.3
Red-breasted nuthatch
0.1
<0.1
0.0
<0.1
0.3
Selected finches and sparrows
Cardinal
3.1
0.7
0.8
0.1
0.0
Evening grosbeak
0.5
0.3
0.8
8.3
3.3
Purple finch
2.2
0.4
0.2
<0.1
<0.1
Pine grosbeak
0.2
0.1
0.0
0.2
4.6
Common redpoll
4.5
7.6
6.7
6.8
16.7
Pine siskin
4.0
0.9
0.5
0.7
0.3
American goldfinch
4.1
2.7
3.1
2.3
0.2
Dark-eyed junco
8.9
3.2
2.5
0.2
<0.1
Tree sparrow
6.9
2.0
4.9
0.3
0.0

Habitat: Common flickers are characteristic of the Southern Deciduous Forest, reaching greatest densities in medium-aged oak forest. Fairly common breeding species in Northern Hardwood Forest and Pine Barrens. Uncommon to rare in other habitat types.


Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

Status: Regular permanent resident.

Distribution: Uncommon to fairly common resident in all regions of the Valley; most numerous along the St. Croix River and its major tributaries. Because of large breeding territories and relative scarcity, low numbers of this woodpecker are recorded along BBS transects (Table 3). All five survey routes traverse fair to good habitat, yet this woodpecker is recorded in very low numbers.

Winter: Winter distribution of this woodpecker is presented in Table 4. Largest winter populations occur in the Western Upland. The pileated woodpecker is fairly regular during winter in Burnett, Douglas, and Pine counties where a combination of Northern Hardwood Forest and coniferous forest provides optimum habitat.

Habitat: The pileated woodpecker is characteristic of large expanses of the mature Lowland Deciduous Forest along and adjacent to the St. Croix River. Fairly common in mature Upland Hardwood Forest and Lowland Coniferous Forest. Uncommon to rare in Southern Deciduous Forest. Rare to absent in other habitat types.


Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

Status: Regular permanent resident.

Distribution: Fairly common breeding bird in the Western Upland, uncommon to rare in the Central Plain, and rare to absent in the Northern Highland. The red-bellied woodpecker is a southern species that reaches its northern range limit along the St. Croix River (Peterson 1951).

Breeding Bird Survey data show that red-bellied woodpeckers occur regularly in central Polk County. Occasional birds with young are observed in Burnett and southern Pine counties. Hamerstrom and Hamerstrom (1963) include two confirmed nest records from along the St. Croix River in western Burnett County. Movement into the northern regions must be fairly recent since Jackson (1942) failed to record this species in 1919 during his work in northwestern Wisconsin. Bernard (1967) considered this species to be very rare in Douglas County, citing three observations in areas north of the St. Croix River. Green and Janssen (1975) cited documented breeding records for Washington County and showed red-bellied woodpecker breeding range extending north to the Chisago-Pine county line.

Winter: Locally a fairly common winter resident in the Western Upland, rare and local adjacent to the St. Croix River in the Central Plain (CBC; Table 4).

Habitat: This woodpecker is a characteristic species of Lowland Deciduous Forest. Large expanses of lowland forest occurring along the St. Croix River and its major tributaries provide excellent breeding habitat. During the breeding season, pairs also use the edge between lowland forest and Southern Deciduous Forest and locally in Northern Hardwood Forest. Wintering birds are found primarily in Lowland Deciduous Forest and Southern Deciduous Forest. This woodpecker is attracted to corncribs on farms near woodland edges during the winter.


Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

Status: Regular migrant, nesting species, and winter resident.

Migration: Fairly common spring and fall migrant in the Western Upland and Central Plain. Uncommon and more sporadic in the Northern Highland The first noticeable influx of spring migrants occurs 20 April to 1 May, reaching peak numbers 15-25 May. Fall migration begins about 10 August in the Northern Highland and 20 August elsewhere. Peak movements occur 20 August to 15 September and most have departed by 1 November.

Nesting Season Distribution: Fairly common breeding species in the Western Upland and Central Plain, rare to uncommon in the Northern Highland. Breeding Bird Survey Data indicate that a uniformly distributed breeding population occurs through the Western Upland and Central Plain (Table 3). Evidence of nesting or the presence of inferred nesting records have been obtained in all counties of the Valley.

Winter: Uncommon and local winter resident in upland oak habitat near the St. Croix River. The CBC data (Table 4) indicate that red-headed woodpeckers occur regularly north to Burnett and Pine counties in winter. Moe (1968) also showed that the winter distribution of red-headed woodpeckers in Wisconsin extended northward including southeastern Burnett County.

Habitat: Breeding red-headed woodpeckers occupy both upland and lowland deciduous forests. Largest breeding densities occur in mature Southern Deciduous Forest in the Western Upland. This woodpecker also uses second growth oak forest and open-oak forest extensively. Mature Lowland Deciduous Forest that is dominated by green ash and American elm is also an important breeding habitat. Suitable breeding habitat is enhanced by the presence of dead or dying trees. The spread of oak-wilt and dutch elm disease has aided in providing additional nesting sites for these birds.


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

Status: Regular migrant and nesting species, casual in winter.

Migration: Uncommon spring and fall migrant in all regions. Spring migrants begin to arrive 25 March to 5 April and peak migration occurs 15 April to 1 May. Fall migration begins 15-25 August. Peak numbers occur 20 September to 5 October and departure by 25 October.

Nesting Season Distribution: Uncommon to fairly common breeding bird in the Northern Highland, uncommon in the Central Plain, rare and local in the Western Upland. Documented nesting records exist for all counties in the Valley.

Winter: Yellow-bellied sapsuckers have been observed twice on the Afton CBC, Washington County: 2 January 1960 and I January 1970 (at a feeding station).

Habitat: Yellow-bellied sapsuckers occupy a variety of upland deciduous and coniferous forest types for nesting. This species is most common during the breeding season in climax or near climax Northern Hardwood Forest that is dominated by maple and basswood. Nesting also occurs in mature and second growth aspen-maple forest. Coniferous forests are used to a lesser extent for nesting. Breeding yellow-bellied sapsuckers regularly use extensive stands of Lowland Deciduous Forest in the Western Upland.


Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)

Status: Regular permanent resident.

Distribution: Fairly common breeding bird in the Northern Highland and Central Plain, uncommon and local in the Northern Highland. Goddard (1972) reported a breeding density of 3.45 pairs per 40 ha in the Kinnickinnic River Valley, Pierce County. Breeding Bird Survey data (Table 3) suggest that breeding densities are fairly uniform throughout the Valley.

Winter: Fairly common winter resident in the Western Upland and Central Plain; uncommon in the Northern Upland. The CBC data (Table 4) show the greatest densities occurring along and adjacent to the lower St. Croix River. The largest count was 91 on the Afton CBC, 1 January 1972.

Habitat: Hairy woodpeckers are not indicative of any one habitat type. Breeding pairs occupy a variety of habitats including Lowland Deciduous Forest, Southern Deciduous Forest, Northern Hardwood Forest, and Lowland Coniferous Forest.


Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

Status: Regular permanent resident.

Distribution: Fairly common in the Western Upland, common in the Central Plain and Northern Highland. Breeding Bird Survey data (Table 3) suggest that the breeding population increases slowly northward across the Valley. Jackson (1942), however, noted that the downy woodpecker was usually less numerous than the hairy woodpecker in northern Wisconsin. Goddard (1972) reported a breeding density of 6.6 pairs per 40 ha in the Kinnickinnic River Valley, Pierce County.

Winter: Common winter resident in the Western Upland, fairly common in the Central Plain and Northern Highland. The mean ratio of downy to hairy woodpeckers in the Valley during winter is 1.5 to 1.0. Only in the Northern Highland does the hairy woodpecker appear to be more numerous than the downy woodpecker. Young (1961) also noted a greater proportion of hairy woodpeckers to downy woodpeckers in northwestern Wisconsin. Largest winter counts were 143 on the Afton CBC, 1 January 1972 and 123 on the Suburban St. Paul CBC, 2 January 1976.

Habitat: Habitat use by the downy woodpecker is characterized by both upland and lowland coniferous and deciduous forests. Edge situations are used more extensively by this species than by the hairy woodpecker, especially for feeding. During winter, downy woodpeckers occupy habitat similar to that used for breeding. In agricultural areas, downy woodpeckers also use corn stubble fields regularly for feeding.


Black-backed Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus)

Status: Regular migrant, nesting species, and winter resident.

Migration and Winter: Casual fall migrant and winter resident in all regions. Dates for Washington County include 28 October 1964 at Stillwater (Honetschlager 1965), 2 November 1972, and 14 January 1973 (Huber 1974b). This woodpecker was observed once in Chisago County on 13 November 1966, and in Pine County on 28 February 1974 (Eckert 1974). Wisconsin records include Polk County, 23 December 1974 at the McKenzie Creek Wildlife Area (T. 37 N., R. 16 W.); Thiel (1978) lists three winter records for Polk County, although he provides no dates or locations. Douglas County records include one bird 9.6 km west of Solon Springs (Sec. 36, T. 45 N., R. 15 W.) on 26 November 1974. One was observed on the Solon Springs CBC on 23 December 1976 (Table 4).

Nesting Season Distribution: Rare and local permanent resident of the Northern Highland. Bernard (1967) considered this woodpecker a "rare permanent resident that nests locally" in Douglas County. The nesting areas that Bernard refers to occur along the Brule River. The only evidence of nesting in the Valley is provided by Knudson (1978). On 3 August 1978, Knudson observed three black-backed three-toed woodpeckers that he considered to be one female and two immatures in T. 43 N., R. 13 W., Douglas County. On 21 or 22 August 1978, Jeffery Knudson observed a male at the same location. Knudson speculated that this was a nesting record.

Habitat: The habitat associated with most black-backed three-toed woodpeckers observed during the breeding season is predominantly Lowland Coniferous Forest. Coniferous trees killed by fire are particularly attractive to this species. Although Knudson (1978) found adult and immature birds using Jack Pine Barrens, this habitat may have been used only as feeding habitat and not for nesting. This species is found in the extensive Lowland Coniferous Forest of Burnett, Douglas, and Pine counties. Additional field work in Lowland Coniferous Forest directly adjacent to the St. Croix River may shed more light on the breeding status of this species.


Northern Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus)

Status: Casual winter visitor.

Records: The first bird was observed by K. H. Dueholm on 8 March 1975 in Polk County, and subsequently on 15 March 1975 (Faanes 1975). This bird was using a small Black Spruce-Tamarack Bog (Sec. 12, T. 34 N., R. 16 W.). B. Klugow (personal communication) observed a second northern three-toed woodpecker in Polk County (Sec. 3, T. 33 N., R. 15 W. ) on 11 April 1976.


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