Breeding Bird Atlas 2 Species Accounts
- Very local, trend not established
Red-headed Woodpeckers are boldly patterned, easily identifiable, and very active. These traits make them a favorite among birders, and their breeding in Massachusetts is infrequent enough to be an exciting event. Red-headed Woodpeckers are much more numerous south and west of Massachusetts, but they do breed rarely and irregularly in the Commonwealth. Historically, however, the species was far more widespread within the Bay State.
Historic StatusEarly Massachusetts ornithologists actually knew the Red-headed Woodpecker as “perhaps the most common of this familiar race” (Peabody 1839), which is remarkable considering its current range and abundance. However, by the 1860s, men like Charles Johnson Maynard, the famed egg and nest collector of Massachusetts, said “I have never seen it living” (Maynard 1870). The bird became a rare visitor at any time of the year, and by 1900 observers were describing a nest in Agawam in 1889 as the last one known in the state (Howe & Allen 1901). Edward Howe Forbush commented on its erratic and seemingly nomadic behavior in 1927, referring to mass fall migrations through the state in 1881 and 1894, and also including a breeding map that would make modern observers envious of the species’ former breeding footprint (Forbush 1927).
Atlas 1 DistributionDuring the Atlas 1 surveys the Red-headed Woodpecker remained the rarest of Massachusetts’ breeding woodpecker species. Even though Red-headed Woodpeckers could not be counted on to breed every year, several breeding records were collected during Atlas 1. The lowland areas of western Massachusetts – the Marble Valleys and Connecticut River Valley – each had a small number of breeding Red-headed Woodpeckers. Throughout the rest of the state, the only breeding indications were Possible records in the Lower Worcester Plateau and the Bristol/Narragansett Lowlands, and a Confirmed nest in Lynn in the northern Boston Basin.
Atlas 2 Distribution and ChangeAtlas 2 found Red-headed Woodpeckers continuing to erratically breed in very small numbers across the state, although no Confirmations were made during the second Atlas period. Two Possible blocks, one each in the Vermont Piedmont and Connecticut River Valley regions, were the only suggestions of Red-headed Woodpecker breeding in the western half of the state—the area formerly most likely to host this admittedly rare species. The Coastal Plains and Bristol/Narragansett Lowlands also reported one block apiece, and the state’s only block with Probable breeding evidence included the Harbor Islands in the Boston Basin. Always irregular as breeders in Massachusetts, Red-headed Woodpeckers will have, at best, a tenuous nesting presence in the Bay State for the foreseeable future.
Atlas 1 Map
Atlas 2 Map
Atlas Change Map
|Atlas 1||Atlas 2||Change|
|Ecoregion||# Blocks||% Blocks||% of Range||# Blocks||% Blocks||% of Range||Change in # Blocks||Change in % Blocks|
|Marble Valleys/Housatonic Valley||2||5.1||25.0||0||0.0||0.0||-2||-5.1|
|Lower Berkshire Hills||0||0.0||0.0||0||0.0||0.0||0||0.0|
|Connecticut River Valley||3||5.4||37.5||1||1.5||16.7||-2||-4.2|
|Lower Worcester Plateau||1||1.4||12.5||0||0.0||0.0||-1||-1.9|
|S. New England Coastal Plains and Hills||0||0.0||0.0||1||0.4||16.7||1||0.4|
|Bristol and Narragansett Lowlands||1||0.9||12.5||1||0.9||16.7||0||0.0|
|Cape Cod and Islands||0||0.0||0.0||1||0.7||16.7||0||0.0|