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Black-backed Woodpecker, Christian Artuso
Photo © Christian Artuso

Photo: Christian Artuso
Breeding evidence - Black-backed Woodpecker
Breeding evidence
Relative abundance - Black-backed Woodpecker
Relative abundance
Probability of observation - Black-backed Woodpecker
Probability of observation

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Black-backed Woodpecker
Picoides arcticus
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Conserv. status:
SRANK: Abundant (S5)
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
22 35 261 246
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Manitoba1977 - 2015 3.13 (-0.342 - 7.44)Low
Canada1970 - 2015 1.57 (-0.903 - 3.66)Medium

Mean abundance (number of birds detected per 5 min. point count) and percentage of squares occupied by region

Bird Conservation Regions [abund. plot] [%squares plot]
Arctic Plains and MountainsBoreal Hardwood TransitionBoreal Softwood Shield
0.00% 0.0731% 0.0718%
Boreal Taiga PlainsPrairie PotholesTaiga Shield and Hudson Plains
0.069% 0.00% 0.099%

Characteristics and Range The Black-backed Woodpecker is similar in size to a Hairy Woodpecker with three toes on each foot and jet black upperparts; males show a yellow crown patch. In the vastness of the boreal forest, it is often first located by its strident call and rattles, and uneven tapping as it flicks the bark off softwood trees (occasionally also birch and diseased elm). The Black-backed Woodpecker is resident across the boreal forest from Alaska to Newfoundland, though not quite as far north as its smaller cousin the American Three-toed Woodpecker (which can nest in smaller trees), and in montane forests of the Western Cordillera below the treeline to California (Tremblay et al. 2016).

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat As described in The Birds of Manitoba, atlas results show the Manitoba range of the Black-backed Woodpecker to be extremely similar to the American Three-toed Woodpecker, except for an absence of detections in the Arctic Plains & Mountains. Its association with the boreal forest was equally strong; however, its highest band of relative abundance was farther south than the American Three-toed Woodpecker, extending throughout the Boreal Softwood Shield, south along Lake Winnipeg in the Boreal Taiga Plains, and even into the eastern Boreal Hardwood Transition. Relative abundance was also high throughout northwestern Manitoba but surprisingly low in Riding Mountain. As noted for the American Three-toed Woodpecker, however, caution is required in interpreting relative abundance for this species as it responds to short-term increased food availability following burns, tree-disease outbreaks, and some insect infestations (Tremblay et al. 2016). This woodpecker is found in every coniferous and mixed forest type in the boreal biome of Manitoba (Villard 1994, pers. obs.), but can exhibit a complex response to disturbance and succession processes and subsequent food supply (Tremblay et al. 2016).

Trends, Conservation, and Recommendations BBS trends suggest this woodpecker's population is fairly stable in Manitoba and Canada but, as with the American Three-toed Woodpecker, there is much uncertainty about the status of northern populations. Fire suppression and salvage logging following burns and storm damage, as practiced in at least the southern portion of this woodpecker's range, have negative impacts (Tremblay et al. 2016). Like the American Three-toed Woodpecker, this species may also suffer from preferential logging of old-growth forests and, as a result of these factors and its ecological specialization, the Black-backed Woodpecker is listed as sensitive or under various at-risk categories in 15 U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions, though not Manitoba (Tremblay et al. 2016).

Christian Artuso, David Raitt (410)

Recommended citation: Artuso, C., and D. Raitt. 2018. Black-backed Woodpecker in Artuso, C., A. R. Couturier, K. D. De Smet, R. F. Koes, D. Lepage, J. McCracken, R. D. Mooi, and P. Taylor (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Manitoba, 2010-2014. Bird Studies Canada. Winnipeg, Manitoba [15 Dec 2018]

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Banner photo: Christian Artuso