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NATURAL HISTORY

BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER } Picoides arcticus
FAMILY: Picidae

DESCRIPTION: The black-backed woodpecker is a towhee- to robin-sized three-toed woodpecker inhabiting montane and boreal conifer forests of North America. The bird is heavily barred black and white on the sides and flanks, with nearly solid black upperparts, and has a white throat. Males and young sport a yellow crown-patch, while the female’s crown is entirely black. The bird’s sooty black dorsal plumage serves to camouflage it against the deeply black, charred bark of the burned trees it uses for foraging.

HABITAT: Black-backed woodpeckers occur in a wide variety of conifer-forest types, but the greatest densities typically occur in unlogged, severely burned conifer forests. At the landscape scale, while not tied to any particular tree species, black-backed woodpeckers generally are found in old conifer forests comprised of relatively high densities of larger trees.

RANGE: The black-backed woodpecker is a resident from Alaska, through Canada to the northern parts of the contiguous United States. The California population of black-backed woodpeckers may be disjunct from the continuous boreal forest population that extends from Alaska to Newfoundland at more northerly latitudes.

MIGRATION: Black-backed woodpeckers may sometimes migrate to relatively lower slopes in winter.
 
BREEDING: Woodpecker pairs build and occupy a new nest every year around April and May, laying eggs from April to June, depending on the region. Both sexes incubate eggs and care for young.

LIFE CYCLE: No one knows for certain this woodpecker’s natural life span, though banded birds have been followed for up to eight years.

FEEDING: Black-backed woodpeckers feed largely on the larvae of wood-boring beetles. To a small extent, they also eat weevils and other beetles, ants, insects, spiders, vegetable food, wild fruits, mast, and cambium.

THREATS: The black-backed woodpecker is primarily threatened by post-fire salvage logging, fire suppression, forest thinning, historical logging, and climate change.

POPULATION TREND: Based on woodpecker density estimates using the best available scientific data, the Center approximates an extant population of approximately 300 pairs of black-backed woodpeckers in California.

Black-backed woodpecker photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Cephas