Skip to Content

American Three-toed Woodpecker

As opposed to the four toes of most other woodpeckers, these woodpeckers only have three toes on each foot.

The American Three-toed Woodpecker lives up to its name, having only three instead of four toes on each foot. It is also unusual among North American woodpeckers in that it has no red in its plumage. American Three-toed Woodpeckers are broadly distributed within the range of spruce forest, their preferred habitat.

As avid consumers of bark beetles and wood-boring beetles, American Three-toed Woodpeckers help maintain the health of forests. Studies have shown that individual birds may consume thousands of larvae per day.

Description of the American Three-toed Woodpecker


The American Three-toed Woodpecker has black wing coverts, dark brown flight feathers barred with white, a black and white barred back, and white stripes on either side of a black face patch.

Male has a yellow crown patch.

American Three-toed Woodpecker

Photograph © Glenn Bartley


Female lacks yellow crown patch.

Seasonal change in appearance



Similar to adults, but browner.


Coniferous forests, especially spruce.



Related: Why do woodpeckers peck wood?


Forages on tree trunks by looking under flaking bark.

American Three-toed Woodpecker


American Three-toed Woodpeckers are resident across much of Canada and parts of the western U.S.

Related: Types of Woodpeckers in North America

Fun Facts

Once considered the only woodpecker to live in both North America and Europe, the American Three-toed Woodpecker has now been split from the European form and is considered a separate species.

The northern range and forest habitats of the American Three-toed Woodpecker make it difficult to survey using standard Breeding Bird Survey routes, so its population is not well measured.


Not very vocal, the American Three-toed Woodpecker occasionally makes a “pik” call similar to that of the Downy Woodpecker, or a few other rare sounds.

Similar Species

The Black-backed Woodpecker has a black back. No other woodpeckers have yellow crown patches.


The American Three-toed Woodpecker’s nest is placed in an excavated cavity of a dead tree.

Number: 4.  Color: White.

Incubation and fledging:
?- Young hatch at about 12-14 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) in 22-26 days, but associate with the adults for some time.

Bent Life History of the American Three-toed Woodpecker

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

Let others know your thoughts or ask an expert

Would you like to get new articles of birds (Once a month?)

No SPAM! We might only send you fresh updates once a month

Thank you for subscribing!

No thanks! I prefer to follow BirdZilla on Facebook