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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

Three-toed Woodpecker -- Picoides tridactylus
(formerly Northern Three-toed Woodpecker)

RANGE: Resident, often locally, from northwestern and central Alaska, northern Manitoba, northern Quebec, and Newfoundland south to western and southern Alaska, central Washington, and southern Oregon, in the Rocky Mountains to eastern Nevada, central Arizona, and south-central New Mexico, and to southwestern and central Alberta, southern Manitoba, northeastern Minnesota, central Ontario, northern New York, northern New England, and southern Quebec.

STATUS: Locally common in western coniferous forests; rare in east.

HABITAT: Primarily inhabits coniferous forests of the West, especially where fires have left large stands of dead trees. Also occasionally inhabits conifer stands in the Northeast.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Dead trees for cavity nests.

NEST: Excavates nest cavities each year in dead trees or in dead limbs with decayed heartwood in live trees. Usually locates nest holes 5 to 12 feet above ground in pine, aspen, spruce, and cedar.

FOOD: Feeds by probing and drilling for wood-boring larvae of moths and beetles (probably one of the most important birds in combating forest insect pests in the western United States). In Colorado, consumes spruce beetles for 65 percent of its annual diet and 99 percent of its winter diet. Also eats ants, wood-boring larvae, caterpillars, fruits, mast, and cambium.

REFERENCES: Beal and McAtee 1912, Bent 1939, DeGraff et al. 1980, Jackman and Scott 1975, Johnsgard 1979, Koplin 1972, Massey and Wygant 1973, Thomas et al. 1979.

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