Birda Logo
Species Guide
A photo of a Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus), male
Black-backed Woodpecker, Male

Black-backed Woodpecker

Picoides arcticus

The black-backed woodpecker, known scientifically as Picoides arcticus and colloquially as the Arctic three-toed woodpecker, is a bird of medium stature, measuring approximately 23 cm (9.1 in) in length. It is distinguished by its predominantly black plumage, which adorns the head, back, wings, and rump, contrasting with the white underparts extending from throat to belly. The flanks are white, barred with black, and the tail is black with white outer feathers. A notable feature of this species is the presence of only three toes on each foot, a trait shared with its close relatives, the American and Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers. The adult male is further characterized by a striking yellow cap, a touch of color amidst the otherwise somber hues.

Identification Tips

When identifying the black-backed woodpecker, look for the following key features:

  • Length: 9.1 inches (23 cm)
  • Weight: 2.1–3.1 oz (60–88 g)
  • Wingspan: 15.8–16.5 in (40–42 cm)
  • Black plumage with white underparts and barred flanks
  • Male-specific yellow cap
  • Three-toed feet, a unique adaptation among woodpeckers


The black-backed woodpecker is a denizen of the boreal forests, thriving in regions across Canada, Alaska, the Northwestern United States, and parts of the Great Lakes region, including northern Wisconsin, New York's Adirondacks, New England, Minnesota, and Upper Michigan. This species exhibits a particular affinity for burnt forests, where it plays a crucial ecological role.


This woodpecker's range extends throughout the boreal forests of North America, with a year-round presence in its chosen habitats. It is a non-migratory bird, although historical records indicate occasional irruptions beyond its usual range.


The black-backed woodpecker is a burnt-forest specialist, adept at exploiting the wood-boring beetle populations that proliferate in recently burnt trees. It primarily feeds by pecking at the wood, with a smaller portion of its diet obtained by gleaning insects from branches. Nesting occurs in the spring, with each pair excavating a new nest annually. Other bird species often reuse these abandoned cavities for their own nesting purposes.

Song & Calls

The vocal repertoire of the black-backed woodpecker includes a distinctive call note, a single, sharp "pik" sound, which is lower in pitch compared to that of the American three-toed woodpecker.


Breeding activities commence in April and May, with the woodpecker couple sharing the responsibility of incubating the eggs. The male takes on the sole duty of incubation during the night. After hatching, the altricial chicks are brooded until they reach the nestling phase, with both parents contributing to feeding. Fledging occurs approximately 24 days post-hatching.

Similar Species

The black-backed woodpecker can be confused with other woodpecker species, but its three-toed feet and the male's yellow cap are distinguishing characteristics. It shares its three-toed trait with the American and Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the black-backed woodpecker is largely composed of wood-boring beetles, particularly from the Cerambycidae and Buprestidae families, as well as engraver beetles and the mountain pine beetle. Its foraging technique is predominantly pecking, with occasional gleaning.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List classifies the black-backed woodpecker as Least Concern, indicating a stable population without significant threats to its conservation status at this time.

App logo
Birda is a birdwatching app and community aimed at curious people who want to deepen their connection with nature.

Black-backed Woodpeckers on Birda


More Woodpeckers

A photo of a Bay Woodpecker (Blythipicus pyrrhotis) , male

Bay Woodpecker

Blythipicus pyrrhotis
Birda Logo

Your birdwatching journey like never before

Connect with nature in minutes
Take a walk, look out of the window and log the birds that you see. Feel good about those little connections to nature.
Discover the joy of birding
Find new birding spots, see more birds, share and celebrate with a like-minded community of nature lovers.
Play your part in saving nature
Logging your birding sightings and sessions turns into positive action for our planet. Every sighting counts.

Birda Blog

What Our Birders Say
Jane N
A great app
Enjoying it immensely and finding it useful too. Recording the different birds and counting them is showing me how the present climate is affecting them all. I've trebled the numbers by planting native hedging. A great app.
Very Wholesome App
Joined this app with a new interest in watching birds to help me find out what I was spotting. The community is very active in helping identify birds which is great and everyone is very kind so it’s just a nice wholesome community. I would definitely recommend this for any bird spotter πŸ˜„
Fantastic App
This is a really lovely app, for everyone interested in birds - from newbies to old hands. There is a very friendly feel to the community and you will genuinely learn a lot as you record your sightings and photos. There are lots of badges and competitions to keep you engaged, and a host of really useful features.
Simply fantastic
I love this app, it puts so much fun into recording the birds I’ve seen and heard while I’m out and about. The interface is user-friendly and suitable for all ages. It’s great to collect badges and to review my β€œlists”.
Love Birda
I love this app. It really encourages you to log your sightings and the community is friendly and helpful.
Erna M
I really like Birda
I really like Birda. I also use other birding apps and have Birda with E-bird going at the same time.
A mordern game changer
Birda is an awesome app, its updated the world of birding to the modern day with a fun and easy to use app. It’s engaging and allows positive interaction with fellow bird lovers!
David C
Very knowledgeable group
Nice friendly birding community. Very knowledgeable group with a willingness to help.
Talli A
My favourite app
As a young birdwatcher who was always keen to be apart of a community but never seemed to find one, my problem was solved downloading this!!! Everyone is so friendly and just as excited to see birds as me 😁
Birda fan
I really enjoy using Birda, all sightings are recorded and photos can be added. There are monthly challenges which help to get you out to record your sightings. The Birda community are great and are happy to help with unidentified bird sightings. Suitable for all ages and experience!
As featured in
AboutPressAmbassadorsAffiliatesInfluencersCareersPrivacyTerms & Conditions
An app for birdwatchers
Giving back
Connect with us
Copyright Β© 2024 Chirp Birding. All rights reserved.