Black-backed Woodpecker

Blacked-backed Woodpecker for identification

Black-backed Woodpeckers have the distinction of locating forest fires and foraging through the blackened tree trunks for their meal.

Black-backed Woodpeckers are medium-sized and have solid black heads and backs, so they are hard to spot among the charred trees around them.  They have a single white stripe on their face, white throats, breasts and bellies, and black and white striped flanks.

Their tails are also black with white outer feathers. They have white spots on their wings. Male Black-backed Woodpeckers have yellow caps.

Females are similarly patterned except they don’t have the yellow caps on their heads. They also have fewer spots on their wings compared to males.

Black-backed Woodpeckers have three toes instead of four.

  • Picoides arcticus
  • Length: 9.1 in (23 cm)
  • Weight: 2.1 – 3.1 oz (61 – 88 g)
  • Wingspan: 15.8 – 16.5 in (40 – 42 cm)


Black-backed Woodpeckers do not migrate, and they predominantly live in Canada and Alaska and some down parts of the Western US as far as California. They occasionally move south looking for food especially after fires leave lots of dead trees, which are perfect for them.

Habitat And Diet

You can find Black-backed Woodpeckers in forests that have had fires in the last 8 years. It’s a bonus if these burned forests are insect-infested and filled with dead trees. They also inhabit regular forests, those that aren’t burned, especially if they have ponderosa pine, spruce, fir, white-cedar, and sometimes, aspen trees.

Burned forests yield an abundance of wood-boring beetles and their larvae since they feed on recently burned trees. These are the main diet of Black-backed Woodpeckers.

They target large trunks and start by flaking the bark off them and then inserting their long tongues into the larval tunnels and grooves of the wood to reach their prey.

Black-backed Woodpecker Call And Drumming:

They make a single sharp “pik” call.


Nests of Black-backed Woodpeckers are tree cavities in dead trees. Males usually do all the excavation on the dead trees to make a hole. The female finishes building it and leaves wood chips at the bottom.

Both parents make a new nest hole for every nesting attempt, which is great for other birds that rely on ready-made nest holes. The female then lays two to six eggs and incubation is done by both parents.

Fun Facts:

Black-backed Woodpeckers will inhabit a particular burned forest for years until insect populations decline.