A new kind of spring

Updated: 5 days ago

The red-headed woodpecker breeding season at Cedar Creek has begun with a slow turn from winter to spring. We've finally rounded the corner and in many ways it feels like a typical spring season in Minnesota.

Red-headed woodpeckers at Cedar Creek. Photos by Jim Gindorff.


But this spring isn't typical at all. The global pandemic we are all experiencing has made certain that very little feels typical or normal. Our research on red-headed woodpeckers is continuing, although on a limited basis. We are thrilled that we can continue collecting data this year (thanks, UMN and Cedar Creek!), but we certainly miss all of our citizen science volunteers who provide an incredible support system to the work that we do each year. We are keenly aware—this year more than ever—how important our volunteers are in terms of monitoring red-headed woodpecker nests in Cedar Creek’s oak savannas to learn more about their nesting and habitat preferences, breeding behavior and brood rearing.


We have a small team this year working to continue nest monitoring and research. To date, we are monitoring 13 active nests and keeping tabs on a number of other cavities where we are seeing a lot of woodpecker activity. Two of our active nests have young nestlings and that was an exciting discovery this week.

Red-headed woodpecker nestlings and eggs.


We also recently came across a cavity with a pileated woodpecker and its nestlings and on the very same day a cavity full of white-breasted nuthatch nestlings. We're not sure if these cavities were excavated by red-headed woodpeckers but we knew there was some bird activity in them so we decided to check and we were pleasantly surprised (as were these birds)!

Pileated woodpecker adult (left) and nestlings (middle) and white-breasted nuthatch nestlings (right).


In addition to the other species we found nesting this week, we have seen a wave of spring migrants coming through Cedar Creek and a number of resident birds, some staying to breed and others moving further north. Project volunteer, Jim Gindorff, has taken some great photos of these birds along the Fish Lake Nature Trail, which is still open to the public. We can always count on Jim to grab great photos—thanks, Jim!

Yellow-rumped warbler, white-throated sparrow, red-tailed hawk. Photos by Jim Gindorff.

Swamp sparrow, orange-crowned warbler, pileated woodpecker. Photos by Jim Gindorff.


We hope you are all staying healthy and you're enjoying the transition to spring, despite so many challenges and unknowns. We have found a semblance of normalcy in getting back in the field and observing the birds and landscape around us. We will keep you updated this summer on what we see through this blog and via email updates and we look forward to seeing you all again in person next year!

© 2018 Elena West

All rights reserved. Images used with permission.