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Black-Backed Woodpecker

Known for their close association with burned or recently disturbed forests, these Woodpeckers feed on wood-boring insects that inhabit dead and dying trees.

The Black-backed Woodpecker is unusual in that it only has three toes on each foot, and it lacks red in its plumage. Specializing in eating beetles common to recently burned forests, it is uncommon and sporadic in occurrence depending on whether habitat is available. Prompt control of forest fires can limit available habitat for Black-backed Woodpeckers.

Black-backed Woodpeckers have occasional aggressive interactions with other cavity nesters such as Western Bluebirds, Mountain Bluebirds, and Hairy Woodpeckers. Black-backed Woodpeckers have strong dispersal abilities for finding and utilizing recently burned forests, and their population goes boom or bust depending on how much suitable habitat is available.


Description of the Black-backed Woodpecker


The Black-backed Woodpecker has a black back, white underparts with black stripes on the flanks, a black tail with white outer tail feathers, and a white stripe behind the bill.

Black-backed Woodpecker

Male. Photograph © Glenn Bartley


Females lack the yellow spot on the crown.

Seasonal change in appearance



Similar to adults but with browner flank markings.


Fir and spruce forests with many dead trees.


Insects, especially wood-boring beetle larvae.

Black-backed Woodpecker

Photograph © Glenn Bartley


Forages under flaking bark of dead trees.


Resident in parts of the northern and western U.S. as well as Canada and Alaska.

Related: Types of Woodpeckers in North America

Fun Facts

Relatively rare in terms of overall numbers, the Black-backed Woodpecker is also somewhat nomadic and irruptive depending on the availability of recently burned forest.
The all black back of the Black-backed Woodpecker serves the purpose of camouflaging it when it is perched on charred tree trunks.


A sharp “pik” note.


Similar Species

The all black back and barred flanks are distinctive.
American Three-toed Woodpecker has a barred back. Previously considered the same species.



The nest is a cavity in a dead tree.

Number: 3-4. Color: White.

Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at 12-14 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) in 25 days but remain with the adults for some time.


Bent Life History of the Black-backed Woodpecker

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Black-backed Woodpecker – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.




Now considered Black-backed Woodpecker by the AOU.HABITS

Although not found in the strictly Arctic, treeless regions, this bird is probably well named, for its range as a whole averages farther north than that of any other woodpecker except P. tridactylus. It is a bird of the boreal forests of spruces and firs, ranging as far north in Alaska and northern Canada as these trees grow, and extending its range southward throughout the Canadian Zone into the Northern United States and farther southward in some of the higher mountain ranges.

In the eastern portion of its range this woodpecker seems to prefer the dense virgin forests of spruces and balsam fir, but it nests mainly in the more open windfalls or burned-over clearings where there are plenty of dead, standing trees in which to excavate its nest. In New York State, near the southern limit of its breeding range, a typical locality is thus described by Laurence Achilles (1906) “At three thousand feet or more above the sea, in the denser spruce and balsam forests of the Adirondacks, the Arctic three-toed woodpecker is’ fairly common. * * *

“The trees near the nest were chiefly spruces, with a few balsams and birches scattered among them. The birds had selected a rather open place for their nesting-site, as, within a radius of ten yards from their nest, there were several windfalls and dead spruces. The ground was carpeted with moss, while linnea, clintonia, wood-sorrel and bunchberry were blossoming in profusion near the base of the tree.”

In the Midwestern States and Provinces, the Arctic three-toed shows a decided preference for tamarack swamps, especially where these have been burned over, leaving a few dead or dying trees still standing; these trees not only furnish an abundant food supply but offer many convenient nesting sites. Into such attractive habitats these birds sometimes congregate to form small breeding colonies.

The Weydemeyers (1928) say that in northwestern Montana this woodpecker “is found most frequently in Transition zone woods that have been logged or burned over. In virgin forests it occurs sparingly in yellow pine woods at low elevations; more commonly in mixed broad-leaf and conifer, and Douglas fir, associations; and rarely in alpine fir and lodgepole pine woods of the higher mountains, in the Canadian zone. Its favorite feeding trees are Douglas fir and western larch.”

Nesting: Philipp and Bowdish (1919) found four or five nests of the Arctic three-toed woodpecker in Northumberland County, New Brunswick, in May and June 1917. Most of the nests were in living balsam firs with dead hearts, but one was “in a dead maple stub, near the edge of a large burnt barren, and a short distance from the edge of mixed woods.” This was “at a height of a out ten feet. The cavity measured 10½ inches from the lower edge of entrance to bottom. The entrance measured 1% inches in height and 134 inches in width.” They say that: apparently nest sites are selected Indiscriminately, in dead stubs In open cleared ground or burnt barrens, and In the woods, where nests are often in dead-hearted live trees. The birds bare a remarkably strong attachment for their nests, as evidenced by re-laying in nest holes from which eggs had been femoved, and their disregard of the immediate presence of intruders. The male evidently performs his share of the work of incubation, as well as care of young. New nest holes are apparently dug each year, and these may not be in the immediate vicinity of nests of the previous year. The site selected tends to be low, only one nest having been noted at a height of over ten feet, while one, as noted, was as low as two feet. Entrances to nest holes are strongly beveled at the lower edge, forming a sort of “door-step,” and more or less at sides and even top. While this is true in some cases with the Northern Hairy and some other woodpecker excavations which we have examined, it has not proved so frequent or pronounced. With experience, one can usually identify the nest hole of this species with comparative certainty, by this one feature.

Dr. Harrison F. Lewis watched a pair of these woodpeckers excavating their nesting hole on May 27, 1936, in some second-growth woods, chiefly spruce and fir, in Saguenay County, Quebec; he says in his notes: “The Arctic three-toed woodpeckers had a partly excavated nest cavity at a height of about 14 feet on the northwest side of a dead birch stub in a clearing. The stub was about 20 feet high and 1 foot in diameter and stood about 10 feet from the border of the clearing. The nest cavity was guarded almost continually by one bird of the pair. The bird on guard clung to the lower edge of the opening of this cavity. Nine other woodpecker-made openings. many of them only partly completed, were to be seen in the same stub.

“I watched the three-toed woodpeckers, from partial concealment near at hand, for an hour and 25 minutes. Each one of them would spend a period of 15 to 20 minutes at their nest cavity, then be relieved by the other. The periods spent at the cavity by the male were somewhat longer than those spent there by the female. While the male was at the cavity, he spent much of his time in excavating, with only his tail and the region of his rump projecting from the opening, but at intervals of a few seconds he would withdraw his body and bead from the cavity and look about him. When he was excavating, very little noise could be heard. He spent some time in throwing out chips and some time in resting. When the female was at the cavity, she did very little excavating, so little that it seemed to be a mere gesture. On one occasion, after she had been clinging to the edge of the opening for 10 minutes, she drummed repeatedly, but not loudly, on the outside of the stub beside the opening. I wondered if she were signaling to the male to come to relieve her in guarding the cavity. After 5 minutes of such intermittent drumming, she was relieved at the opening by the male.”

Mr. Achilles (1906) describes the nest he found in the Adirondacks as follows:

The hole, which was in a spruce tree, faced north by northeast, and was twenty-seven feet one Inch from the ground. The spruce retained all Its branches and some twigs, although it had been dead for some time.

The following dimensions of the hole were taken after the young had left their nest. The entrance to the hole was two inches wide and one and fiveeighths Inches high. From the outside of the hole, straight through over the top of the nest to the back of the hole, the measurement was five and three-fourths inches. The outside shell, Including the bark, was one and three-fourths Inches thick. The diameter of the nest opening was three and one-fourth inches, while the diameter of the hole on the inside at the bottom of the shaft, was four and five-eighths inches. The depth of the hole was nine and one-eighth inches.

Dr. C. Hart Merriam sent Major Bendire (1895) some notes on two nests that he found in the Adirondacks, as follows:

The water of Seventh Lake, Fulton Chain, had been raised by a dam at the foot of Sixth Lake, flooding a considerable area along the inlet, and the trees killed by the overflow stood in about 6 feet of water. In 1883 the place was first visited by me, May 27. Both species of Three-toed Woodpeckers (Picoides amencanes and areticus) were tolerably common, and one new nest of each was found. That of P. ancticus contained one fresh egg. The nest was 10 inches deep, and the opening within 5 feet of the surface of the water. It was in a dead spruce, 10 inches in diameter. * * * The place was next visited June 2, but the date proved still too early. Several unfinished nests of P. amenicanus were found, and one completed nest with four fresh eggs of P. arcticus. Like the one found on my first visit, it was in a dead spruce and about 5 feet above the water. The nest was 11 inches deep and the orifice 1T4 Inches in diameter.

J. H. Fleming (1901) says that the Arctic three-toed woodpecker is “a common resident in Parry Sound, rarer in Muskoka. This Woodpecker has a habit of sometimes nesting in colonies. I saw the nests of such a colony near Sand Lake in 1896; there were six or seven nests, each cut into the trunk of a living cedar, just below the first branch, and usually eight or ten feet from the ground. The cedars were in a dense forest, overlooking a small stream that empties into Sand Lake.”

Macoun (1909) reports, on the authority of Spreadborough, that “a pair nested in a telegraph pole quite near Cache lake station of the Parry Sound railway.” Major Bendire (1895) writes:

On May 10, 1883, while en route from Fort Kiamath to Linkville, Oregon, and only a few miles from the latter place, just where the pine timber ended and the sagebrush commenced, I found a male busily at work on a pine stump, only about 2½ feet high and about 18 inches in diameter, standing within a few feet of the road, and close to a charcoal burner’s camp, in quite an open and exposed situation, nearly all the timber in the vicinity having been cut down. The stump was solid, full of pitch, and showed no signs of decay; the entrance hole was about 1½ inches in diameter and 8 inches from the top. The cavity, when first examined, was only about 2 inches deep, and on my return, two days later, It had reached a depth of 4 inches: the female was then at work. To make sure of a full set of eggs, I waited until the 25th. The cavity then was found to he 18 inches deep, and was gradually enlarged toward the bottom. The four eggs It contained had been incubated about four days. The female was on the nest and uttered a hissing sound as she left it, and might easily hays been caught, as she remained in the hole until the stump was struck with a hatchet. The sides of the cavity were quite smooth, and the eggs were partly embedded in a slight layer of pine chips. The locality where this nest was found was near the top of a low divide, not over 4,100 feet In altitude.

Dr. Thomas S. Roberts (1932) calls attention to an interesting feature in the nesting habits of this woodpecker, as observed in two nestings that he saw in Minnesota; he says of the two nests:

The nesting-hole was in a live jack-pine on the edge of a tamarack and spruce swamp, only twenty feet from a traveled road and close by a log house used as a store. The entrance faced south and was twelve feet from the ground, at which point the tree was seven inches in diameter. The outer bark of the tree had been chipped off for a distance of twelve to fifteen inches above and below the hole and half-way around the tree, thus leaving a large, irregular, whitish area. * * *

Another nest, found the same season, was also in a live evergreen tree and the outer bark had been similarly stripped from around the entrance, making a conspicuous, white patch with the dark nesting-hole in the center. Can this be a direction mark for the returning bird among the dark tree trunks around?

As to the height from the ground, P. B. Philipp writes to me that of 26 nesting holes examined by him in New Brunswick two were 15 feet, two 12 feet, three 10 feet, one 8 feet, two 6 feet, two 5 feet, four 4 feet, six 3 feet, and four only 2 feet above ground.

Although the Arctic three-toed woodpecker usually nests at no great height above ground, there are a few exceptions to this rule, mainly in the western portion of its range. Grinnell and Storer (1924) record a nest seen in the Yosemite region that was 50 feet above ground in a dead lodgepole pine. Harry S. Swarth (1924) found, in the Skeena River region, the highest nest of which I can find any record; he says: “A nest of the Arctic three-toed woodpecker was found in Kispiox Valley. It was placed in a dead and charred Engelmann spruce, in a strip of spruce woods bordering a muskeg otherwise surrounded by poplar forest. The nest hole was eighty feet from the ground. It was two and one-half inches in diameter and one foot deep, drilled through an outer sheath of sound, hard wood, and downward through soft, rotten ‘punk.'” Egg&: The number of eggs laid by the Arctic three-toed woodpecker varies from two to six, four being the commonest number. These vary from ovate to elliptical-ovate, the former shape prevailing. The shell is dull or only slightly glossy and is pure white. The measurements of 39 eggs average 21.32 by 18.94 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 25.9 by 18.7, 25.1 by 20.2, and 22.35 by 17.53 millimeters.

Young: The period of incubation is about 14 days; both sexes assist in this and in the care of the young. Only one brood is raised in a season, but if the eggs are taken, a second set will be laid, often in the same nest.

Mr. Achilles (1906) watched a nest containing young for 24 consecutive hours, he and a companion taking turns at the vigil and sleeping alternately within ten yards of the tree; he writes:

The parents, when feeding their young, usually alighted within a space of three feet below the hole, and never directly at its entrance. They would pause here for a moment as though fearing they were observed hy someone. Thea they would hop up to the hole and look In. anywhere from two up to six tines, as if accustoming their eyes to the darkness. Once in a while grubs could he seen In their bills, hut, from the actions of the birds when feeding their young, they appeared to he regurgitating. During twenty-four hours the female fed the young thirty times, and the male twenty-nine times.

As it grew dusk, the young gradually grew quieter, and their little “peeppeep-peep” greatly resembled those of chicks when crawling heneath their mother’s wings. From two o’clock in the afternoon till seven o’clock that evening, two minutes was the longest period during which the young did not utter a single “peep.” From seven P. M. until two minutes after four the next morning, the young birds ceased this continuous chattering. The mother was the last to feed them at night, the time being seventeen minutes after seven; but the male was up first in the morning. At four-fifteen in the morning, the young uttered a few sleepy “peeps,” and the male alighted three feet below the hole at four-sixteen. The young birds heard him alight and Immediately commenced to chatter. The male hopped up to the hole, looked In twice, and then fed them. The young birds’ bills were seen, indicating that they were very hungry, and were hanging on to the inner wall of the nest near the entrance. Soon after this their hunger was appeased, their bills were seen no more, and the parents had to go almost into the hole to feed them.

Plumages: The nestlings are naked and blind at first, but the juvenal plumage is acquired before the young leave the nest. In the juvenal plumage, the young male is similar to the adult male, but the yellow crown patch is smaller and not so sharply defined; the upper parts are duller, browner black, lacking the glossy, bluish edgings; the breast is tinged with dull buffy white; and the flanks are more heavily and less distinctly barred or spotted with dull black. The young female is similar to the young male, but there is no distinct yellow patch on the crown, only scattering yellow feathers in varying amounts, often few or none at all. This plumage is worn through the summer and early fall; the first winter plumage, which is practically indistinguishable from that of the adult, is apparently not fully acquired until November or December. Adults have one complete annual molt, beginning in August.

Food: More than three-quarters of the food of both species of three-toed woodpeckers consists of the larvae of wood-boring beetles, mainly Cerambycidae and Buprestidas. Referring to the former, Prof. F. E. L. Beal (1911i says:

Stomachs containing 15 to 20 of these grubs are very common, and one held 34. Probably the stomach is filled several times each day, and it does not seem unreasonable to assume that a bird will- eat 50 of these Insects every 24 hours for 6 months and at least 25 daily for the other half of the year. At this rate one bird will annually destroy 13,675 of these destructive grubs. * * *

Probably there are not many other agencies more destructive to timber than this family of beetles. Nor is timber safe even after it has been cut. Logs lying in the mill yard or forest may be ruined In a single season If these creatures are not prevented from depositing their eggs. * * * A very efficient check upon the undue increase of these insects Is found in the woodpeckers, especially the two species of Picoides.

Weevils and other beetles and some ants are eaten, as well as a few other insects and spiders. Vegetable food, wild fruits, mast, and cambium amount to less than 12 percent of the food.

While with us, in southern New England, in winter, this woodpecker shows a decided preference for dead white pine trees (Pinus strobus), especially those that have been killed by fire or have been dead long enough br the bark to have partially peeled off. An isolated tree or a group of trees of this type may be visited day after day by one of these woodpeckers, during its stay, with such regularity that many an observer, who has never seen an Arctic three-toed woodpecker, may feel reasonably sure of finding one in such a place, if it has been previously seen there. Its persistent work on such a tree is well described by E. H. Forbush (1927) as follows:

This species very often begins to work on the trunk near the foot of a tree; it sounds the bark with direct blows, and then, turning its head from side to side, strikes its beak slantingly into and under the bark, and flakes it off. It often works bug on the same tree and barks the whole trunk In time, only occasionally working on the branches. Thus it exposes channels of bark-beetles and the holes made by horers. When the bird retrains motionless, it is well concealed against the blackened bark of the burnt trees. It seems deliberate In its movements and appears to do its work thoroughly, as it often remains five to ten minutes on the same spot and then shifts only a little distance. In early autumn, while the grubs are still at work on the tree, it lays its head against the tree, at times, turning it first to one side and then to the other as if listening.

Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale (1930) write of the feeding habits of this woodpecker in the Lassen Peak region:

One of these woodpeckers was watched as it moved slowly up a tree trunk. It stopped to knock off a piece of hark with a sidewise (glancing) blow of the heavy bill. This was repeated several times. Then the bird began to drill in earnest and the tapping could be heard by a person more than thirty meters distant The blows were delivered rapidly, about two per second. Between three and five minutes were required to bore through the hark, in this instance twenty millimeters thick. Then after a few moments of probing the bill was withdrawn and was seen to hold a white larva which was quickly eaten. * * *

On one tree thirty-five centimeters in diameter an area of hark thirty by sixty centimeters was punctured completely through by twenty-two holes each leading to the tunnel of a wood-borer. * * * The holes were twelve by twelve millimeters across by twenty deep. It appeared to the observer * * * that many of the still living trees in that locality had been saved from complete destruction by the insects, by the activity of this woodpecker.

Manly Hardy wrote to Major Bendire (1895) that, in Maine, “it seems to feed entirely on such wood worms as attack spruce, pine, and other soft-wood timber that has been fire-killed. Specimens are so abundant in such places that I once shot the heads off of six in a few minutes when short of material for a stew.”

Some dead pine trees that had been regularly frequented by these woodpeckers, on the Kennard estate, were cut down; and the birds, seeing their favorite trees gone, continued to search for food on the wood piles made from these trees.

Behavior: Most observers agree that the Arctic three-toed woodpecker is very tame and unsuspicious, working very quietly on a tree trunk for long periods, without moving about much, and allowing a close approach; perhaps, as it lives most of its life in remote northern forests, where men are scarce, it has not learned to fear human beings. Manly Hardy considered it the tamest and stupidest of the woodpeckers found in Maine. Major Bendire (1895) says:

“Like the hairy woodpecker, they are persistent drummers, rattling away for minutes at a time on some dead limb, and are especially active during the mating season, in April. I have located more than one specimen by traveling in the direction of the sound when it was fully half a mile away. * * * Its flight is swift, greatly undulating, and is often protracted for considerable distances.”

Dr. Lewis says in his notes: “When one bird relieved the other in guarding the cavity, the bird taking over guard duty flew low toward the stub and swerved sharply upward, with widespread tail, to alight near the opening.”

Voice: Dr. Lewis (MS.) records the common cry of this woodpecker as “tohuk, often shortened and sharpened to hip.” He also says: “A male mounted a stub, about 25 feet froln me, and there, in plain view, scolded me vigorously with a sharp note like huh, repeated about once a second for some minutes. Each time the note was uttered there was a flash of whitish at the bird’s eye, as though it winked with each utterance. It was also heard to utter a rattling note, apparently another kind of scolding cry.”

Francis H. Allen tells me that the “call-note resembles the cluck used in New England to start a horse; it has a ‘woodeny’ quality.” Ralph Hoffmann (1927) says that “in the breeding season the Arctic Three-toed Woodpecker makes a very loud rolling sound by drumming on dry limbs and when concerned about the nest a shrill kick-ei-ucka-kick. The ordinary call is tscliick or tschuck.” A note of greeting, possibly part of a love-making performance, is thus described by Mr. Achilles (1906) “Several times when the female was getting grubs in the dead spruce near the hole, the male would fly from some distant tree and alight near her. She would see him coming and, just about as he was about to alight, would spread her wings and utter a ‘whe-e-e-e-ee.’ This call, which was its loudest at its middle point, rose and then fell to the same pitch at which it was begun.”

Rev. C. W. G. Eifrig (1906) heard a queer sound that “was as if produced by pulling out the end of a clock spring and suddenly releasing it, producing a wiry, humming sound. The author of it proved to be a male of this woodpecker. In the course of the half hour that I watched him he showed himself master of quite a repertoire of notes and would-be songs. When flying he would say: chut chut and then rattle like a Kingfisher. When hammering on a tree and preening himself, he would intersperse those actions by chuckling:duck, duck, duck.”

Field marks: All the three-toed woodpeckers can be easily recognized by the yellow patch on the crown of the adult male and by more or less yellow in the crowns or young birds of both sexes. The crown patch of the adult male arcticu.s is larger and extends farther forward than that of tridactylus. But the best field mark for the Arctic threetoed woodpecker is the solid-black back, without any white markings, and in the female the solid-black crown as well; the dorsal aspect, when the bird is clinging to a tree trunk, often appears wholly black. The white stripe on the side of the head, below the eye, is much wider in a’rcticus than in tridactylus, and the latter has the back transversely banded with white.

Enemies: Mr. Achilles (1906) relates the following:

In the course of the morning, two red-breasted nuthatches tormented the woodpeckers for fifteen minutes. * * They hovered around the hole with drooping wings, holding their tails up like wrens. One of them finally ventured Into the hole so far that just his tail was protruding. They would fly away when the parents approached the hole, hut would return as soon as the nest was unprotected. After some time the male woodpecker went into the hole, evidently intending to peck them in case they should look into it. During the three minutes he remained in the hole, he managed to keep from looking out for one straight minute. Nevertheless, he was greatly agitated, and would look out every few seconds to see if the nuthatches were approacbing,: his crown-patch showing brightly. At last the male nuthatch came to the edge of the hole, whereat the woodpecker made an unsuccessful attempt to peck his opponent, afterward flying out with a rush, and chasing the nuthatch for some distance on the wing.

Soon after that four Canada jays approached, and one of them ventured near the nest hole, but the woodpecker and a hermit thrush succeeded in driving him and his companions away, and they did not return.

Joseph Dixon (1927) tells of an attempt by a black bear to rob a nest of young Arctic three-toed woodpeckers:

This nest was located only four feet above the ground in a large live lodgepole pine. My attention was first attracted to the locality by the unusually vigorous scolding of the parent woodpeckers. A closer approach revealed the cause of the excitement.

A hear had located the nest, probably through the noise of the young woodpeckers, which were old enough to come to the nest entrance to receive food, and which squealed with anticIpation of a meal any time any bird, animal or person came close to the nest tree. In an endeavor to get at the young in the nest, the hear had bitten out slabs of green wood twelve inches long, two inches wide, and one-quarter of an inch thick. The muddy stains around the inside of the nest entrance showed that the bear had thrust his nose Into the hole repeatedly. But after gnawing over an area 10 by 10 inches on the tree trunk to a depth of more than an inch, the bear gave it up as a bad job. Had the nest been In an old stump, the outcome would probably have been different. This offers a reasonable explanation of the tendency of certain woodpeckers to nest in living trees.

Mr. Kennard tells in his notes of a female hummingbird that attacked one of these woodpeckers: “Several times she swooped down at the woodpecker, who, quick as a flash, would dodge around the trunk and out of her way.”

Winter: The Arctic three-toed woodpecker is normally mainly resident in winter throughout most of its breeding range; it is a hardy bird and its food supply is available at all seasons, the grubs on which it feeds remaining in the wood for more than one season. Probably a few wander southward nearly every winter, and there have been several heavy flights of these birds into the Northeastern States, which it is not easy to explain. Dr. Josselyn Van Tyne (1926) has given a full account of one of these invasions, to which the reader is referred. Mr. Forbush (1927) writes:

It Is difficult to determine exactly what causes these unusual migrations, They are not forced by Inclement weather, for one at least has occurred In a mild winter. * It seems probable that the unusual Invasions of the species Into New England follow summers when Its food has been unusually abundant. An excessive food supply tends to fecundity, and overbreeding naturally compels expansion and induces migratIon, whether among the lower animals or humankInd. Since the above was written, Mr. Josselyn Van Tyne has published a paper regarding the unusual flight of this species In 1923 in which he advances a similar explanation. He says that between 1909 and 1914 there was an Irruption of the spruce budworm in eastern Canada and Maine which resulted in the death of many trees and a consequent increase of bark-beetles and borers, followed by an increase in the number of these woodpeckers. On the other hand a scarcity of the usual food supply may cause migration. A wet season with few fires In the woods or a scarcity of insects (such as the spruce bud-moth) that kill trees might, later, cause a migration.

Illustrating the length of the sojourn of these woodpeckers during the winter of 1923: 24, Dr. Van Tyne (1926) says:

The greatest concentration of these woodpeckers recorded at any one point was on the estate of Mr. F. H. Kennard where scores of dead and dying white pine afforded an abundance of their special food. The first one seen was a male collected on October 17. Another individual appeared by October 20 and during the winter at least three males and two females were accounted for, while all Indications point toward the actual presence of perhaps twice as many. The most remarkable fact about this group of birds, however, was the length of their stay, for both males and females were seen as late as the middle of May and at least one male stayed through the early part of June and was last seen on June 12.

Other invasions are recorded by Mr. Forbush (1927) as follows: “A great irruption of these birds occurred in the autumn of 1860. During the following winter Mr. George 0. Welch often saw as many as six or eight at once in a piece of fire-killed timber in Lynn. * * * In the autumn of 1925, there was a lesser movement, and many returned through New England in the spring of 1926. In the autumn of 1926 another considerable southward migration occurred.”

Range: North America south to the Central United States; nonmigratory.

The range of the Arctic thee-toed woodpecker extends north to central Alaska (probably Tocatna Forks and Fairbanks); southern Mackenzie (Fort Wrigley, Fort Providence, and Smith Portage); northern Manitoba (Cochrane River and probably York Factory).; Quebec (Richmond Gulf, Godhout, and Madeline River); and Newfoundland (Nicholsville). East to Newfoundland (Nicholsville); probably rarely Prince Edward Island (Baddeck); eastern New Brunswick (Tabusintac); probably rarely Nova Scotia (Advocate); Maine (Machias); and probably rarely Massachusetts (Winchendon and Concord). South to probably rarely Massachusetts (Concord); central Vermont (Pico Peak); southern Ontario (Ottawa, Algonquin Park, and Sand Lake); northern Michigan (Au Sable Valley, Blaney, and Huron Mountain); probably northern Wisconsin (Kelley Brook and Star Lake); northern Minnesota (North Pacific Junction, Itasca Park, and White Earth) ; probably southwestern South Dakota (Elk Mountains); northwestern Wyoming (Yellowstone Park); northwestern Montana (Glacier National Park and Fortine); northern Idaho (Fort Sherman); and central California (Mona Lake and Bear Valley). West to California (Bear Valley, Lassen Peak, and Mount Shasta); Oregon (Pinehurst and Fort Klamath); Washington (Bumping Lake and probably Tiger); British Columbia (Arrow Lakes, Fort St. James, Kispiox Valley, and Atlin); south-central Yukon (Six-mile River); and Alaska (Chitina Moraine and probably Tocatna Forks).

During the winter season this species has been recorded north to Alaska (Copper River); Mackenzie (Fort Simpson, Fort Rae, and Fort Reliance); Manitoba (Grand Rapids); Ontario (Arnprior and Ottawa) ; New Brunswick (Scotch Lake) ; and Nova Scotia (Pictou). While no regular movements have been detected, individuals have been recorded at this season south to Long Island, N. Y. (East Hampton and Southampton); northern New Jersey (Upper Montclair and Englewood); southern New York (Ithaca); Ohio (Painesyule and Akron) ; Illinois (Rantoul and Peoria); Iowa (Big Cedar River); and Nebraska (Omaha and Dakota).

Egg dates: Laborador: 3 records, May 27 to June 2. Maine: 3 records, May 19 to June 12.

New Brunswick: 12 records, May 19 to June 30; 6 records, May 30 to June 15, indicating the height of the season.

New York: 5 records, May 18 to June 10.

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.

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