Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus): downlist to Least Concern?

This discussion was first published as part of the 2017 Red List update. At the time a decision regarding the status of several was pended, but to enable potential reassessment of these species as part of the 2018 Red List update this post remains open and the date of posting has been updated.

BirdLife Species factsheet for Red-headed Woodpecker:


Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus, is endemic to North America, found in central through to eastern U.S.A. and the extreme south of Canada. Occurring in mature lowland forest and using dead trees for nesting, this species is thought to have declined as a result of the removal of dead trees and branches in urban areas, as well as firewood cutting, clear cutting, agricultural development and river channelling in rural areas (Pulich 1988, Ehrlich et al. 1992, Melcher 1998).

The species is currently listed as Near Threatened under criteria A2bc+3bc+4bc on the basis of evidence of moderately rapid declines (Butcher and Niven 2007). It has been described as ‘fairly common’ (Winkler et al. 2017) and given its very large range, it would not approach the threshold for listing as Vulnerable under criteria B, C and D. More recent information regarding population trends suggests that the species may no longer approach the threshold for Vulnerable under criterion A either. Breeding Bird Survey data presented by Sauer et al. (2017) shows that between 2005 and 2015 the species may have undergone an annual decline of 0.54% (95% CI: 1.24% decline – 0.20% increase). This would equate to a decline of c.8% over three generations (15.6 years). Partners in Flight (Rosenberg et al. 2016) shows a decline of 67 or 68% over the past 44 years. However, given that recent declines have been far slower than previously (see Sauer et al. 2017), the Rosenberg et al. (2016) decline may in fact have been driven more by historical declines rather than being a result of an even constant decline. Therefore, the estimate using Sauer et al. (2017) likely better represents declines in this species over the past 3 generations – the time period used for a Red List assessment under criterion A2 – though Rosenberg et al. (2016) do also give a potential future half-life of this species of >50 years, which (at worst) would give a decline of 19.4% over the next 3 generations. This would still not approach the threshold for Vulnerable under criterion A, and so this species would no longer approach the threshold for Vulnerable under any criterion. As such it is proposed that Red-headed Woodpecker be downlisted to Least Concern.



Butcher, G. S.; Niven, D. K. 2007. Combining data from the Christmas Bird Count and the Breeding Bird Survey to determine the continental status and trends of North America birds. National Audubon Society, New York, NY. bird/stateofthebirds/CBID/report.php

Ehrlich, P. R.; Dobkin, D. S.; Wheye, D. 1992. Birds in jeopardy: the imperiled and extinct birds of the United States and Canada including Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California.

Melcher, B. 1998. Red-headed Woodpecker. In: Kingery, H.E. (ed.), Colorado breeding bird atlas, pp. 250-251. Colorado Bird Atlas Paratnership and Colorado Div. Wildl., Denver.

Pulich, W. M. 1988. The birds of North Central Texas. A & M Press, College Station, Texas.

Rosenberg, K. V.; Kennedy, J. A.; Dettmers, R.; Ford, R. P.; Reynolds, D.; Alexander, J. D.; Beardmore, C. J.; Blancher, P. J.; Bogart, R. E.; Butcher, G. S.; Camfield, A. F.; Couturier, A.; Demarest, D. W.; Easton, W. E.; Giocomo, J. J.; Keller, R. H.; Mini, A. E.; Panjabi, A. O.; Pashley, D. N.; Rich, T. D.; Ruth, J. M.; Stabins, H.; Stanton, J.; Will, T. 2016. Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan: 2016 Revision for Canada and Continental United States. Partners in Flight Science Committee.

Sauer, J. R.; Niven, D. K.; Hines, J. E.; Ziolkowski, Jr, D. J.; Pardieck, K. L.; Fallon, J. E.; Link, W. A. 2017. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966 – 2015. Version 2.07.2017 USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD.

Winkler, H.; Christie, D. A.; de Juana, E. 2017. Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 31 May 2017).

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One Response to Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus): downlist to Least Concern?

  1. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our proposal for the 2017 Red List would be to pend the decision on this species and keep this discussion open until 2018, while leaving the current Red List category unchanged in the 2017 update.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 4 August, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from those in the initial proposal.

    The final 2017 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in early December, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

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