American Three-toed Woodpecker Wednesday

Today’s featured woodpecker is the American Three-toed Woodpecker.

American Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides dorsalis)

Description:

American Three-toed Woodpeckers are black and white, “pied” face, and about 8 inches in length. Their plumage is more black than white. These woodpeckers are one of the two North American woodpeckers that are tridactyl, meaning they have three toes instead of four like other species (you can learn more about the different kind of bird feet here). The male’s crown is yellow and the female’s crown is all black. Adult Three-toed have a thin white eye stripe that curves downwards behind their ear. They appear to have a short bill due to elongated nasal tufts.

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Male American Three-toed Woodpecker (Image by Kendall Brown via utahbirds.org)

Range:

found year-round in boreal forests from western Alaska through Canada east to Newfoundland; Rocky and Cascade Mountains in the western United States

Habitat:

Coniferous forests; especially in burned, flooded or insect-infested forests. Associated with lodgepole pine, subalpine fir, and spruce trees.

Diet:

Three-toed tend to live in areas where there are spruce bark beetles infestations, which are a large part of their diet. Other food sources include a variety of beetles, ants, arthropods, may occasionally consume sap or fruit. Forages on tree trunks will remove bark from trees to find insects.

Breeding/Nesting:

Not much is known about breeding habits. Three-toed excavate nest cavities in usually dead coniferous trees. Both sexes will work together to excavate a new cavity each year. They are monogamous during breeding season, and may possibly stay together for more than one season. Three-toed usually lay 4 eggs which are incubated for 12-14 days by both sexes. The young will fledge 22-26 days after hatching and will remain with their parents for 4-8 weeks afterwards.

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Female American Three-toed Woodpecker (Image by Discovery Planet at discoveryplanet.com.au)

Sounds:

pik!, similar to a Downy Woodpecker  , one of the least vocal North American woodpeckers. Also makes rattle and twitter sounds, and can be easily identified by its drum.

Conservation:

Local populations vary; may be more abundant after fires and insect-infestations. They are generally uncommon and may be more sensitive to timber harvesting. They are considered a conservation priority throughout their range.

Fun Facts: 

  • Three-toed breed the furthest north of any North American woodpecker species.
  • They are one of the most difficult woodpeckers to spot in the field and are highly sought by birders to add to their life lists. They are usually overlooked because their black plumage helps them blend in well with the charred trees they sit on. They may sit still on a trunk for long periods of time, making them easy to miss. The best time to spot them is during peak breeding season, when they are the most vocal.
  • In 2003, the “Three-toed Woodpecker” was split into two separate species: the American Three-toed Woodpecker and the Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker. Even though they look similar, the difference occurs in their mitochondrial DNA.

 

 

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Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily birdwatch throughout New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.

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