Kinosota-Leifur – The Red-headed Woodpecker Blitz Results

On July 9th, a group of people descended on the relatively unknown Kinosota-Leifur Important Bird Area from as far afield as Portage la Prairie, Winnipeg, Birds Hill and Brandon. Our goal was to locate and count the globally Near Threatened Red-headed Woodpecker, a Species At Risk and a stunning species to observe and enjoy.

The IBA at Kinosota-Leifur was the brainchild of Harry Harris who once worked at the Alonsa Conservation District. It was Harry who put together the IBA information and had estimated that at least 50 pairs were present in this area. Since 1995 though, apart from some atlassing, no one had, as far as we know, tried to do a comprehensive count of this species in this area.


There is still evidence of previous efforts to conserve the Red-headed Woodpecker. Copyright Tim Poole

Red-headed Woodpeckers are a species with an interesting habitat preference. They prefer open stands of aspen with plenty of deadwood and snags for cavities. The vegetation must be short and lack dense shrubs, hence they are often present in open woodlots with cattle or horses. The dead trees must all be fairly large, around 25cm diameter at chest height (the technical term is DBH or Diameter at Breast Height).


Typical Red-headed Woodpecker habitat in the IBA. Copyright Sabina Mastrolonardo

This is a migratory species in Manitoba, wintering in the United States and returning to breed in deciduous woodlands in the centre of the continent in spring. There are also resident breeding populations in southeastern USA and southern Ontario.

Data from Breeding Bird Surveys suggest that this species has suffered a marked decline of over 65.5% in a 40 year period. According to Birdlife International, this species decline is due to:

‘Habitat degradation, as a result of the removal of dead trees and branches in urban areas (Pulich 1988), and loss of nesting habitat to firewood cutting, clear cutting, agricultural development and river channelling in rural areas (Ehrlich et al. 1992, Melcher 1998).’

As to the blitz, we really did not know what to expect. An article placed in the Neepawa Banner in the days before had managed to drum  up some interest, mainly from people form the wider area letting us know where Red-headed Woodpeckers might be discovered. We had developed a protocol which included periods of listening and playback for woodpeckers and hoped this would be sufficient even as we stepped into the unknown.

Twelve volunteers embarked on this exploration and we split into 4 groups. The search areas were split into a core area, highlighted in red and an extension area which took in areas to the west of the main highway. This second area turned out to be much wetter than expected and it was to the core area we would focus.


In the north, around Kinosota itself we had a team of Louanne, Margaret, Millie and Bill. This group turned out to be the group with the least luck – not a single Red-headed Woodpecker around Kinosota strangely. They did find some suitable habitat – one spot was especially good. On a positive note, they did get two Pileated Woodpecker, always a cracking species to find. Even more remarkable was an overhead White-faced Ibis, something more likely to pop up at Whitewater or Oak Lake. The comments from Louanne were as follows:

‘Margaret, Millie, Bill and I made 23 protocol stops during the Kinosota-Leifur IBA Blitz in search of Red-headed Woodpeckers. Most of the ‘core’ area and a little of the ‘extended’ area of Group/Zone A, were covered. Our effort began under sunny skies but after just over an hour, a cold wind brought in threatening clouds which led to rain, hampering our efforts though sunny skies did return. All observations were made from inside or a short distance from the vehicle.’


Dark clouds on the horizon. Copyright Sabina Mastrolonardo

The period of windy weather midway through the morning was especially difficult for hearing birds and the second group consisting of Eric, Carrie-Anne and Tim actually revisited suitable habitat which had scored zero woodpeckers first time – scoring a few extra Red-headed Woodpeckers in the process.


Red-headed Woodpecker flying away under dark skies. Copyright Tim Poole

This group found 11 individual Red-headed Woodpeckers, the most of any group. Interestingly they also scored their first one in Amaranth en route, on a telephone pole. Other species of note included a calling Scarlet Tanager and Black-billed Cuckoo.


All photos copyright Tim Poole

South again and our next group included Wally Jansen, Katharine Schulz and Sabina Mastrolonardo. They recorded 8 Red-headed Woodpeckers in a central area between Silver Ridge and Bluff Creek. A nice little patch of habitat. Other highlights included 6 species of flycatcher, 3 of which were another Species At Risk, the Eastern Wood Pewee, and 10 Bobolink. Interestingly, 10 Bobolink might also point towards issues for the Red-headed Woodpecker, if suitable woodland has been felled and replaced with hayland.

Finally, Garry and John surveyed the southern area, detecting 2 Red-headed Woodpeckers, interestingly the furthest west of the survey. They also grabbed a pair in the group to the norths area thanks to a tip off from a friendly farmer. The other highlight was that of finding a Great Gray Owl, not common in this type of habitat in July.


Sharp-tailed Grouse in the Kinosota-Leifur IBA. Copyright Garry Budyk

This gave us a total of 23 Red-headed Woodpeckers for the morning. not bad, but not a patch on the 50 pairs found historically. The next challenge is to try to work out whether we were missing a lot of woodpeckers or whether land-use changes in the 25 or so years since the IBA was put together have led to a large loss in habitat. Hopefully there will be more to come on this in the future. Below is the distribution of Red-headed Woodpeckers mapped. As can be seen, the current boundary is not correct and will be changed to reflect these results.

K-L IBA Blitz RHWO.jpg

A summary of all species can be seen below. In total there were 91 species and 2048 individual birds counted, still pretty good and comparable figures to other blitzes. Ring-billed Gulls were numerous as were wetland songbirds such as Sedge Wren, Common Yellowthroat and Song Sparrow.

KL infographic.jpg

Mallard 14
Sharp-tailed Grouse 2
Double-crested Cormorant 3
American White Pelican 15
Great Blue Heron 2
Great Egret 1
White-faced Ibis 1
Turkey Vulture 3
Northern Harrier 5
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Bald Eagle 6
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 9
Sandhill Crane 5
Killdeer 13
Marbled Godwit 1
Wilson’s Snipe 27
Franklin’s Gull 16
Ring-billed Gull 291
Herring Gull 2
gull sp. 32
Rock Pigeon 15
Mourning Dove 19
Black-billed Cuckoo 2
Great Gray Owl 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 3
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-headed Woodpecker 23
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 7
Downy Woodpecker 6
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 25
Pileated Woodpecker 2
American Kestrel 22
Merlin 3
Alder Flycatcher 3
Least Flycatcher

Eastern Wood Pewee



Eastern Phoebe 7
Great Crested Flycatcher 6
Eastern Kingbird 23
Warbling Vireo 27
Red-eyed Vireo 51
Gray Jay 1
Blue Jay 6
Black-billed Magpie 9
American Crow 48
Common Raven 26
Purple Martin 16
Tree Swallow 13
Bank Swallow 25
Barn Swallow 46
Cliff Swallow 12
Black-capped Chickadee 12
House Wren 25
Sedge Wren 39
Marsh Wren 13
Eastern Bluebird 3
Veery 16
American Robin 70
Gray Catbird 32
Brown Thrasher 2
European Starling 43
Cedar Waxwing 32
Ovenbird 7
Black-and-white Warbler 2
Common Yellowthroat 76
American Redstart 7
Yellow Warbler 86
Chestnut-sided Warbler 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2
Le Conte’s Sparrow 15
Clay-colored Sparrow 76
White-throated Sparrow 10
Vesper Sparrow 4
Savannah Sparrow 63
Song Sparrow 103
Swamp Sparrow 16
Scarlet Tanager 1
Bobolink 22
Red-winged Blackbird 140
Western Meadowlark 25
Yellow-headed Blackbird 15
Brewer’s Blackbird 42
Common Grackle 10
Brown-headed Cowbird 12
Baltimore Oriole 8
Purple Finch 14
American Goldfinch 33
House Sparrow 5