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

The Black-backed Woodpecker, which is known all over the globe as one of the most gorgeous members of the family Picidae, wears a shiny black tuxedo that allows it to fit in perfectly with the charred trunks of burnt conifers that are found throughout its territory. The Black-backed Woodpecker is at one end of the spectrum of specialization and may be the best-adapted woodpecker in the world for collecting wood-boring beetle larvae from the trunks of trees that are afflicted with the pest. This species features an extraordinary array of anatomical modifications that aids the application of maximal power when hitting a tree.

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