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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Black-backed Woodpecker -- Picoides arcticus
(formerly Black-backed Three-toed Woodpecker)

RANGE: Resident, often locally, from western and central Alaska, southern Yukon, northern Manitoba, central Labrador, and Newfoundland south to southeastern British Columbia, through the Cascade, Siskiyou, and Warner Mountains and Sierra Nevada of Washington and Oregon to central California and west-central Nevada, through Montana to northwestern Wyoming and southeastern South Dakota, and to southwestern and central Alberta, southeastern Manitoba, northern Minnesota, north-central Michigan, northern New York, and northern New England.

STATUS: Uncommon.

HABITAT: Inhabits dense coniferous forests, especially in burned, swampy, cutover, or beetle-killed forests where dead trees are numerous.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Dead or live trees with dead heartwood for nesting and feeding sites.

NEST: Usually excavates its cavities in snags or live trees with dead heartwood, especially in areas that have been burned or logged. Mostly nests in spruce, balsam fir, pines, or Douglas-fir, but also in maple, birch, cedar, and utility poles. Locates nest cavity usually less than 15 feet above the ground.

FOOD: Flakes off bark of dead conifers to get at larvae of destructive wood-boring beetles, which make up about 75 percent of its food. Also eats weevils and other beetles, spiders, and ants, along with some wild fruit, mast, and cambium.

REFERENCES: Beal and McAtee 1912, DeGraff et al. 1980, Forbush and May 1955, Johnsgard 1979, Thomas et al. 1979.

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