Black-backed Woodpecker

Species Profile: Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker, Picoides arcticus

Learn more about this species in the Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America.

Introduction to the species

“In the mountains that tower against the sky like a frozen sea of tossing white-caps … the belt of hemlocks, lodgepole, and white-bark pines just below timberline where the last of the stunted trees are sculpted by the wind, between 8000 and 9000 feet, marks the Humboldt Zone. In this cold boreal forest we find the Arctic three-toed woodpecker, with a yellow cap, chipping the bark from the dead conifers.”
-R. T. Peterson 1948

One of the handsomest members of the Picidae worldwide, the Black-backed Woodpecker sports a glossy black tuxedo, blending perfectly against the charred trunks of burned conifers across its range. On the extreme end of the specialization spectrum, the Black-backed may be the best adapted woodpecker in the world for extracting wood-boring beetle larvae from the trunks of infested trees. This species possesses an amazing suite of anatomical adaptations that facilitates the delivery of maximum force when striking a tree.

Black-backed Woodpecker excavating a nest cavity. Filmed by Stephen Shunk


Gallery of photos of the Black-backed Woodpecker by Steve Shunk


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