Black-backed WoodpeckerMy Mark

Black-backed Woodpecker
Picoides arcticus
Family: Picidae

The Black-backed Woodpecker is missing a hind toe and thus only has two toes in front and one behind. The male has a conspicuous yellow cap, which the female is lacking, solid black back, white below and heavily barred sides. The solid black color is glossy and reflects green on the back while the head reflects blue. The face pattern consists of a fine white line behind the eye. The bird is approximately 9 1/2" to 10" in length with a wingspread of 14-16". The female resembles the male except for the yellow cap and has the line of white behind the eye which is more conspicuous.

The Black-backed Woodpecker is an active bird, climbing along a branch looking for insects and in a few moments goes to another part of the same tree or to another tree. It hops down blackened/burnt trees, which blends in quite well, and strips away the bark to expose grubs. They generally inhabit the northern forests and can be detected by the large patches of bark removed from dead trees. The missing toe is no problem for this bird and it anchors him/her while stripping away the bark.


The song of the Black-backed Woodpecker a sharp or hard kik or pik sound and short. It is quite noisy in nesting areas and drums on trees during breeding season. During the middle hours of the day, it becomes silent.


Central Alaska to Canada southward through Northern US Rockies. It is a casual winter visitor to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Nebraska.


The nest of this species is generally excavated by both sexes, mostly the male, in the body of dead trees such as spruces and birches. The entrance hole is about 1 1/2-2" in diameter, and anywhere from 10-15" deep. The nest cavity is smooth and broad at the bottom and can be anywhere from 5-70 feet up from the ground. During the months of Mid-May to Mid-June, approximately 3-6 eggs are laid which are rounded and pure white and only one brood is raised in the season. Incubation is by both sexes which lasts approximately 14 days. The young follow their parents until autumn.

Natural Feeding Habits:

The Black-backed Woodpeckers diet includes approximatley 75% of insects such as wood-boring beetles, grubs, weevils, ants, ants, other beetles, and spiders. Besides insects, it also feeds on berries and other small fruits, acorns and nuts.

Other Names:

Other names for the Black-backed Woodpecker is Arctic Three-toed Woodpecker and the more common Three-toed Woodpecker.

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