Colorado mountains

The red-headed woodpecker recovery project: Citizen science in the oak savanna of Minnesota

Poster Number: 
Presenter/Primary Author: 
Mary Spivey
Waldstein*, Ariane
Arnold, Todd
Corney, Jeffrey


Since the 1960s, red-headed woodpecker, Erythroceophalus melanerpes, populations in Minnesota have decreased 6% each year for unknown reasons.  Despite this decline, a 200-acre section of prescribed-burned oak savanna in Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve is home to a breeding population of over 80 birds.  In 2008, a citizen science venture—Red-Headed Woodpecker Recovery Project (RWRP), initiated by an offshoot of the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis—began investigating the Cedar Creek population to investigate two questions:  Why are so many red-headeds in this place, and can present conditions be replicated elsewhere to reverse the decline and promote recovery of red-headeds?


Assessing nest cavity selection criteria was the focus of the first four years of the RWRP.  Results to date suggest that red-headeds prefer trees with large diameters, sites with high dead limb density (10m up or lower), and low density of small snags and dead trees.  Data also suggests increased nest site presence with increased prescribed burning of an area.  Further research is needed to explore relationships between burning and nest selection and nest success versus habitat, as well as site fidelity, mate fidelity, and cooperative breeding.


  • Birds
  • Habitat
  • Nesting
  • Prescribed burning

Contact Information for corresponding author

*Department of Fisheries & Wildlife, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN;

Background Photo by: Nicole Hansen - Jornada (JRN) LTER