At a Glance
Generally uncommon, but not so quiet or inconspicuous as the American Three-toed Woodpecker. Where the two species are found together, the Black-backed usually dominates, perhaps driving the Three-toed away from choice feeding or nesting areas.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Tree-clinging Birds, Woodpeckers
Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, High Mountains
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Western Canada
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Not strictly migratory, but may move around in response to changing conditions, often moving into a region after fires kill many standing trees. Eastern birds occasionally stage southward irruptions in winter, with scattered individuals showing up well south of breeding range.
9" (23 cm). Back solidly black; bars on sides. Less white on face than Three-toed Woodpecker. Male has yellow on crown.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, White, Yellow
Songs and Calls
A sharp, fast kyik and a scolding rattle.
Chirp/Chip, Drum, Rattle, Scream, Trill
Boreal forests of firs and spruces. Favors areas of dead or dying conifers, and may concentrate at burned or flooded areas with many standing dead trees. Also in undamaged forests of pine, Douglas-fir, hemlock, tamarack, and spruce, especially spruce bogs. Frequents lowlands in north, mountains in west.
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3-4, sometimes 2-6. White. Incubation is by both sexes (male incubating at night and part of day), probably 12-14 days.
Both parents feed nestlings. Male forages farther from nest, may make fewer feeding trips with more food each time. Young thought to leave nest about 25 days after hatching. 1 brood per year.
Typical foraging behavior involves methodically flaking the bark off of dead trees, searching for insects. May gradually remove the bark from an entire snag; may forage this way on fallen logs as well. Also gleans insects from bark of live trees, rarely catches insects in flight.
Mostly insects. Feeds mainly on the larvae of wood-boring beetles; also eats other insects, spiders, some fruits and nuts.
Many aggressive displays, with complex harsh calls; some of these displays may also be used in courtship. Nest site is in cavity in dead tree or stub, usually conifer such as spruce or pine, sometimes birch or other deciduous tree; occasionally in live tree or utility pole. Usually 2-15' above ground, rarely 50' or higher. Cavity excavated by both sexes, with male often doing most of work. Bark usually cleared away from area around entrance hole.
Local populations rise and fall with changes in feeding conditions, but total population may be more or less stable.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Black-backed Woodpecker. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Black-backed Woodpecker
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.