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Black-backed Woodpecker

Picoides arcticus

Length: 9.5 inches Wingspan: 17 inches Seasonality: All Seasons
ID Keys: Solid black back, barring on sides, white underparts, long sturdy bill, white mustache, yellow cap on head (male)

Black-backed Woodpecker - Picoides arcticusIn South Dakota, the Black-backed Woodpecker is generally found only in the higher elevation Black Hills, frequenting burned forest areas and windfalls as well as healthy conifer forest.  Feeding primarily on wood-boring insects and insect larvae, they forage by stripping large pieces of bark off of trees and feeding on the exposed insects.  They are closely related to the very similar Three-toed Woodpecker, and indeed used to be called the "Black-backed Three-toed Woodpecker".   A female is depicted at the top, while a male (note the yellow cap) is depicted below.

Habitat: They prefer areas of dead or dying conifers due to the larvae of wood-boring beetles that are often found in such areas.  This includes burned, flooded, insect-damaged, or weather-damaged forests.  They may also be found in healthy coniferous forests.  In the U.S. and much of Canada, they are generally found in higher elevations.  In the northern half of Canada, they are found in lowlands.

Diet: Primarily feeds on the larvae of wood-boring beetles.  They will also eat other insects, spiders, fruits, and nuts.

Behavior: Moves methodically on trunks and major branches of dead standing trees and fallen logs, flaking off bark in search of insects underneath.  They will also clamber along branches in live trees in search of insects, and move through foliage when foraging on fruits, nuts, and berries.

Nesting: June and July

Interactive eBird Map: Click to access an interactive map of Black-backed Woodpecker sightings

Song: Often quiet, but will occasionally make a single note, abrasive call, kyik.

Migration: Generally not migratory, but populations do shift as previously burned areas revegetate and new forest areas are burned or otherwise damaged.

Similar Species: Hairy Woodpecker, Three-toed Woodpecker

Status: Overall populations are relatively stable, but locally, populations rise and fall with availability of suitable habitat and associated forage insects.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Black-backed Woodpecker 

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Black-backed Woodpecker"

3) Black-backed Woodpecker

Photo Information: Top Photo: March 6th, 2004 -- Near Sturgis -- Doug Backlund

Bottom Photo: March 14th, 2004 -- Vanocker Canyon -- Elizabeth Krueger and Scott Weins


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Black-backed Woodpecker - Picoides arcticus - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Rare permanent resident in the Black Hills.

Black-backed Woodpecker - Picoides arcticus