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Black-backed Woodpecker


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Black-backed Woodpecker Photo

An uncommon woodpecker of the northern coniferous forests, the Black-backed Woodpecker prefers burned-over sites. It moves from place to place, following outbreaks of wood-boring beetles in recently burned habitats.

At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
9.1 in
23 cm
2.2–3.1 oz
61–88 g
Other Names
  • Black-backed Three-toed Woodpecker, Arctic Three-toed Woodpecker
  • Pic à dos noir (French)
  • El pájaro carpintero de espalda negra (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • A curious aspect of the Black-backed Woodpecker's distribution is its apparent absence from the central and southern Rocky Mountains. It reaches its southernmost distribution in Wyoming and the Black Hills of South Dakota, while the American Three-toed Woodpecker ranges into isolated mountain ranges of Arizona and New Mexico. On the Pacific Coast, however, the American Three-toed Woodpecker rarely occurs as far southward as southern Oregon, while the Black-backed Woodpecker reaches the Sierra Nevada of central California.
  • During the nonbreeding season, individual Black-backed Woodpeckers may move to areas south of the regular breeding range. Movements may be just a few wandering individuals or irruptions involving many birds. Winter records have occurred southward to Iowa, central Illinois, northern Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Jersey, and Delaware. Irruptions have been attributed to a lack of wood-boring insect prey on their normal range or to overpopulation following an insect outbreak.
  • The oldest recorded Black-backed Woodpecker was a male, and was at least 4 years, 11 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Idaho.



Boreal and montane coniferous forests, especially areas with burned trees.



Larvae of bark beetles and wood-boring beetles.


Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–6 eggs
Egg Description
Condition at Hatching
Naked and helpless.
Nest Description

Nest in hole in trunk of tree; chips or wood fibers in bottom of cavity.

Nest Placement



Bark Forager

Forages on trunks and fallen logs. Strips bark from trees, probes, and excavates wood.


status via IUCN

Least Concern

Black-backed Woodpeckers occur in low densities, and the ephemeral nature of their preferred habitat make true population estimates difficult to obtain. The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimates that populations have been stable, with a possible increase, between 1966 and 2014. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 800,000 with 11% living in the U.S., and 89% in Canada. They are a U.S.-Canada Stewardship species and rate an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. They are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Black-backed Woodpecker are considered a species of special concern in some states.


Range Map Help

Black-backed Woodpecker Range Map
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