Boreal’s breeding birds: Iconic species of the North American boreal forest

This National Bird Day, we’re honoring our favorite bird species that rely on North America’s expansive boreal forest.


The boreal forest covers 1.5 billion acres in North America, from Alaska to Newfoundland. This region is covered in pines, aspens, spruce and birch trees and is full of fresh water bodies, including some of the largest lakes in the world. This vast expanse of intact forests and wetlands serves as a bird nursery to nearly half of all the bird species in North America. After spending the summer breeding in the boreal forest, 3 – 5 billion individual birds fly south to winter in warmer climes from the United States to the tip of South America.

If you want to take a deep dive, check out The Boreal Songbird Initiative, which details the life cycles, sounds and characteristics of North America’s boreal birds. Because January 5th is National Bird day, we’ll share some fun facts about some of our favorite species.

Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens

Male Downy Woodpecker. Photo Credit: Richard Griffin via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

13% of the Downy Woodpecker’s North American population breeds in the boreal forest. This is the smallest North American woodpecker, averaging between 6 – 7 inches long. They can be found throughout the continental United States and across Canada.

Rusty Blackbird – Euphagus carolinus

Rusty Blackbird. Photo Credit: Robert Young via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

85% of the Rusty Blackbird’s North American population breeds in the boreal forest. A rare species, the Rusty blackbird migrates to the Southeastern United States for the winter. Unfortunately, its population has declined nearly 90% since the 1960’s.

Greater Scaup: Aythya marila

Greater Scaup Male Harem. Photo Credit: Veit via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

55% of the Greater Scaup’s North American population breeds in the boreal forest. In the United States, thousands of them can be seen in groups called rafts on large lakes or coastal bays.

Mallard Duck: Anas platyrhynchos

Mallard. Photo Credit: Rob MacEwan via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

23% of the Mallard Duck’s North American population breeds in the boreal forest. Mallards are the most abundant duck in North America and the world. 10 million mallards live in North America and sometimes they feed at night, especially when there’s a full moon!

Wilson’s Warbler: Wilsonia pusilla

Wilson’s Warbler. Photo Credit: Becky Matsubara via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

54% of the Wilson’s Warbler’s North American population breeds in the boreal forest. Although they mostly eat bugs and berries, Wilson’s Warblers sometimes eat the honeydew produced by scale insects like aphids. This colorful, widespread warbler, which winters in Central America, is unfortunately suffering population declines.

Common Loon: Gavia immer

Common Loon. Photo Credit: Andrew Reding via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

74% of the Common Loon’s North American population breeds in the boreal forest. Minnesota’s state bird, the Common Loon is an iconic bird, central to many Native American myths and legends and well known for its distinctive call.

Connecticut Warbler: Oporornis agilis

Connecticut Warbler. Photo Credit: Tom Benson via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

91% of Connecticut Warbler’s North American population breeds in the boreal forest. Very little is known about the life history of the mysterious Connecticut Warbler, but it is thought that their winter range is entirely contained in the western Amazon Basin. This rare, reclusive bird remains on many birder’s wishlists.



Broad-Winged Hawks: Buteo platypterus

Broad Winged Hawk. Photo Credit: Jeff Bryant via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

25% of the Broad-Winged Hawk’s North American population breeds in the boreal forest. Well known for their fall migration south to the eastern United States and South America, Broad-Winged hawks travel with other raptor species in groups of thousands called “kettles.”

American Widgeons: Anas americana



American Wigeon. Photo Credit: Stewart Ho via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

64% of the American Wigeon’s North American population breeds in the boreal forest. They can be found all over Western North America. A peculiar behavior of theirs includes waiting at the surface of marshy ponds while other birds dive, then snatching their food away.

Trumpeter Swan: Cygnus buccinator

Trumpeter Swan. Photo Credit: RW Shea via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

57% of the Trumpeter Swan’s North American population breeds in the boreal forest. Despite being symbols of grace, love and beauty, Trumpeter Swans were hunted to near extinction for their skin and feathers 90 years ago. Fortunately, their population has since rebounded.


As we move forward into 2022, Environment America will keep fighting to protect the boreal forest, for the sake of our beloved backyard and birdhouse neighbors.


Sammy Herdman

Save The Boreal Forest Campaign, Associate, Environment America Research & Policy Center

Sammy runs the Save the Boreal Forest campaign for Environment America, calling on American corporations to stop degrading forests that are critical for the climate, biodiversity and people. Sammy grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but now lives in Denver. She enjoys snowboarding, camping and reading.

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