Photo: Daniel Arndt/Flickr Creative Commons

American Three-toed Woodpecker

Picoides dorsalis

Often quiet and inconspicuous, and may perch motionless against a tree trunk for minutes at a time, making it easy to overlook. In some places the Three-toed Woodpecker provides the most effective control of the spruce bark beetle, a major forest pest.
Conservation status Local populations vary considerably; usually uncommon, but may become locally abundant during insect infestations. Extensive range in remote northern forest could be diminished by effects of climate change.
Family Woodpeckers
Habitat Conifer forests. Often closely associated with spruce, also found in pine, fir, tamarack, sometimes mixed with deciduous trees such as aspen or willow. Favors areas with many standing dead trees, as after fire or floods. May concentrate in areas with big infestations of wood-boring insects.
Often quiet and inconspicuous, and may perch motionless against a tree trunk for minutes at a time, making it easy to overlook. In some places the Three-toed Woodpecker provides the most effective control of the spruce bark beetle, a major forest pest.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult male
  • adult female, at nest cavity with food
  • juvenile
Feeding Behavior

Forages on live or dead conifers, especially spruces. Often scales off flakes of bark to get at insects, and may gradually remove all bark from a dead tree. Members of a pair forage together at times, but usually separately while nesting.


Eggs

4, sometimes 3-6. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night and part of day), 12-14 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 22-26 days after hatching, may remain with parents for another 4-8 weeks. 1 brood per year.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 22-26 days after hatching, may remain with parents for another 4-8 weeks. 1 brood per year.

Diet

Mostly insects. Diet is mainly wood-boring beetle larvae, also moth caterpillars and various other insects. Eats some fruit, and may visit sapsucker diggings to feed on sap.


Nesting

Same pairs may remain together for more than one season. Nest site is cavity in tree, typically dead conifer, sometimes in aspen, in live tree, or in utility pole. Cavity (new one each year, excavated by both sexes) usually 5-15' above ground, sometimes 2-50' up. Adult birds often quite unwary around nest, ignoring nearby observers.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Populations in far north and high mountains may move short distance south or downslope in winter. Irregularly may stage southward irruptions in winter, with a few moving well south of breeding range.

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Migration

Populations in far north and high mountains may move short distance south or downslope in winter. Irregularly may stage southward irruptions in winter, with a few moving well south of breeding range.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A soft pik, similar to call of Downy Woodpecker.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Picidae, Woodpeckers Tree-clinging Birds

American Three-toed Woodpecker

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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