Friday, January 30, 2009

Killing Woodpeckers in CA - An Update

Awhile back, I let you all know about the plan in Rossmore, California to kill several dozen Acorn Woodpeckers that were bothering residents there. You can read the first post here.

And now this:

Despite the efforts of MDAS, Audubon Ca, and many wildlife advocates Rossmoor has decided to go ahead with the killing of Acorn Woodpeckers. Here are some links to the most recent news:

Worth a Dam, MercuryNews, SF Gate, and Audubon Ca. has started a new petition; you can find it here.

There is a boat-load of information at this blog, including names, phone numbers, petitions, addresses and places to offer help for these birds. There is just no excuse for this!

Here is a really lovely video on the Hastings Reservation in Monterey, California where they do some really interesting work...including that with Acorn Woodpeckers.

Hastings Reservation is a 2,500 acre UC Biological Field Station in Monterey County. U.C. biologist Walter Koenig has monitored birds there for over 30 years and has a great section in this video on his work with Acorn Woodpeckers. It should give you a better understanding of the social structure of these remarkable birds...including why killing 50 is just NOT GOING TO WORK!

And if you can't get enough information about these neat little birds...I've started a series on Woodpeckers, the first of which was on Acorn Woodpeckers.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Saturday, January 17, 2009

An Ancient Song

Tonight I was privileged to a duet. A song of desire and want on a cold, winter night. A song of the ages: the haunting calls of a pair of owls…Great Horned.

One, then the other…calling, answering, calling again; calling for the hope of continued success in their world, in my world; in our world.

You can hear their beautiful song, here: load the page, turn up the sound, sit back and close your eyes…it’s magical. There are long pauses between calls; imagine a cold, crisp night, your breath contained in a scarf around your face and nose...standing in the dark, straining to hear these ancient songs.

To Our Health...

I subscribe to an online newsletter from High Country Gardens as well as their catalogue. I’ve read their information and ordered plants…the plants arrive healthy and the information right on! So enamored am I of their top quality and selection of plants I want to use, I’ve even driven to Santé Fe and shopped their greenhouses in person.

Today’s news suggested we give wild bees a help…after all they are essential for our food production, and in dire need of our assistance…surely you’ve heard of the decline in honey bees. High Country Gardens suggests we all purchase their bees or their nestsor both!...but probably the single most important offering is their food. Native, perennial plants require the least fuss and offer flowers our native bees prefer. Whether you garden for blooms or garden for food, remember …more bees means more flowers and that translates to more beauty and higher crop yield.

We need bees, why not give ‘em a leg up? Native bees like Orchard and Mason Bees are sweet, docile bees we really don’t need to fuss over any more than not using poisons that aren’t good for us either and providing food (flowers) that we enjoy anyway and perhaps a couple inconspicuous places where they might find nests to shelter their young. It’s nothing but win-win for all
of us!

I want to help bees, but am not so interested in keeping honeybees or harvesting honey. A person has to pick their priorities, you know! This is a way to help bees, without all the hastle of actual 'beekeeping'.
I love it. Besides, I've heard that helping wild bees may be the very cause which keeps our nations food-crops from crashing.

Heck, the newsletter even gives me priceless information regarding what works for bees, but also happens to discourage both rabbits and deer in my garden! Talk about win/win!

Here is a sample of some of the helpful hints the author gives in this single article:

"More Bees, More Food: Bring bees into your
vegetable garden with flowering plants.Bees are
essential for fruit and vegetable production.
Attract them with low care flowering perennials
and shrubs. Plant a wide variety of species to
insure that there are plants in flower from early
spring through fall.

  • Bees are essential for pollinating your fruits and vegetables. Flowering perennials and shrubs need to be in close proximity to your vegetable garden/fruit trees to attract and feed bees with pollen and nectar.
  • Early spring blooming flowers help build the bee population for pollination of fruits and vegetables later in the summer.
  • Native bees and bumblebees nest in ground burrows. Gardeners need to provide ample perennial beds where these pollinators can nest undisturbed. Annual beds and veggie gardens aren't suitable because their soil
    needs to be dug and enriched with compost each spring.
  • Good bugs eat bad bugs. Beneficial insects control pests like aphids, caterpillars and spider mites that then feed on vegetables and fruit trees. Plant these specific perennial flowers that are best for establishing populations of beneficial insects in your garden.
  • Go organic! Using beneficial insects to control insect pests is a cornerstone principle of organic food production.
  • Urban spaces are covered with pavement and buildings. Where are the flowers? Be eco-conscious by planting flowers to replace lost nectar sources. View All Plants that Attract Bees. Select Plants for Pollinators ON SALE until January 24, 2009. Start Now! Bring pollinators to your harvests with this special sale! "
No, I'm in no way affiliated with the store or it's other companies; just enthusiastic. LOL

Thursday, January 15, 2009

That's What I'm Talkin' About!

Okay, so in my world these folks are doing the right thing; they're heros. So they had several reasons going on here...but if you ask me, any reason for saving a tree is a worthwhile reason! While they enjoy the flowers, perhaps local birds enjoy the fruit while the people, in turn, enjoy the birds. Who knew?

This article was in the latest issue of the AARP Bulletin:

A Tree Grows in Shrewsbury

Sometimes it’s the little things that apartment dwellers will fight for. In Shrewsbury, Mass., residents tussled with management over a crab apple tree.

The Shrewsbury Housing Authority, which manages Francis Gardens, a 100-unit complex for older adults, ordered the tree cut down in September so a dumpster could be relocated.

Lee Perrone, 74, and Pat Henry, 65, didn’t want the dumpster beneath their windows. Besides, Perrone says, when the tree blooms, “it’s the most beautiful thing—pink.” So the pair roped chairs around the tree and staged a sit-in. Both women received eviction notices. After a local lawyer volunteered to represent them, the housing authority backed down. The tree was saved. Officials did not return calls for comment.

Heh, heh, kinda women!

Photos from Wikipedia

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Mobbing Crows

As I went out to replace the yard-bird water-dish (I bring it in at night so I won’t have a frozen block to deal with first thing in the morning) and fill it up with clean water, I heard an owl. Its “who who whoooo” was slightly higher pitched than I’ve heard in the past…I assumed I’d just learned the difference in a male and a female’s call; the male has a higher voice. I wonder if that’s because he’s the smaller of the two.

At any rate, I was still in my jammies and it was almost up to twenty degrees outside…so I didn’t spend time looking for him…until about an hour later when I heard a bunch of crows going nuts.

Okay, I haven’t heard many crows of late, and I know from experience when I hear many of them together, there is often an owl or a hawk at the center of their attention. I grabbed my binos and headed out to the enclosed front porch. I saw 22 American Crows amassed on a couple branches in the same part of a leafless tree; two Black-billed Magpies had joined them. While their bodies were not all facing in the same direction, they were all looking in the same direction; at a nearby evergreen tree.

I’m getting better about looking for what doesn’t fit…I scanned the tree; nothing on the outer branches. I began the rather difficult task of peering deep into this very dense tree, starting a bit low and slowly looking for lumps and bumps that were in places they didn’t belong; a thickening of the trunk, a mass on the topside of an inside limb. And there he was; a Great Horned Owl.

The above video sounds exactly like what I heard...but my owl was safely snuggled deep within the evergreen tree and the 24 large, mobbing birds screamed from a nearby bare-branched tree. They all eventually left and I presume the owl enjoyed a nap.

It didn’t help that when I found him, all I could see were his belly feathers…no tell-tale face or ears. But as I watched, trying to determine if this was a bunch of twigs or leaves playing tricks on my eyes…he scratched! Ha, I spy!!!

His movement set off another round of raucous cawing, as well as a strange rattle-sound I’ve never heard before. Of course I headed to Cornell’s site, where I discovered a different crow-call. Wild! You can hear the sound here.

I was tickled pink, invited a neighbor to come see the pretty boy as I headed off to work and just generally reveled in my accomplishment. I found the bird because I paid attention to the early morning call, the behavior of mobbing crows and how to find a bird hiding deep within a very dense tree; and I learned all that in books…reading about birds and bird behavior.

I wish I’d had time to grab my camera too; but I was already late to work! I’ve included a photo of a couple American Crows mobbing a Bald Eagle. Read more about mobbing behavior here.

Photo from Wikipedia

Thursday, January 8, 2009

If you have ever visited TR’s Blog “From the Faraway, Nearby”, you would know it is a celebration of travel, nature and the poetry of place…many places in fact! TR Ryan is a forty-something traveler by trade and born-again bird watcher who once again calls the rolling prairies of Oklahoma home. In 1986 he walked away from a fledgling journalism career to take a year and “see a little something of the world”. Twenty-two years, six continents and eighty-five countries later, “From the Faraway, Nearby” is the photographic journal that celebrates the spirit of place and the people TR meets along the way. His stories are beautifully entertaining and delightful. This man is no armchair traveler, but the real thing and we are better for reading him.

For the 91st edition of I and the Bird, TR hands out “The Vagabirding Travel Magazine Awards for 2008” and celebrates what he considers to be the most popular Birding Regions of last year, as determined by….us! Of course, Oklahoma rates right up there at #1, but also included is Australia, Cross Timbers, Amazonia, The Desert Southwest/Southern Rockies/Colorado Plateau (where I am in exceptional company!), Central America, The Great Lakes, India & Sir Lanka, Malaysia and the Mid-Atlantic Region. TR also mentions our favorite Best Amateur Photographer in the world…with 17,232,429 votes!!! But I’m not going to ruin the suspense; go read TR’s wonderful magazine awards, and discover the birds and blogging from around the world.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hawks on the Wildland-Urban Interface

Trichomoniasis is a disease that occurs in pigeons and doves…as well as in the birds who feed upon them. This especially includes urban Cooper’s Hawks and occasionally others such as Goshawks and, I would assume, Peregrine Falcons. This disease apparently does not trouble adult birds, but as many as 40% of young Cooper’s Hawks die from this disease!

Trich is spread in urban areas during the summer when water is limited and birds concentrate to drink. When diseased doves and pigeons drink at a water source, infected material washes from their mouths out into the water. It is a good idea to add a few drops of bleach to a birdbath regularly, or to empty, clean and sun-dry your birdbaths at least once a week.

Please click here to hear Prof. Bill Mannan of University of AZ give an excellent, short presentation of his and his students work regarding urban Cooper’s Hawks for the past several decades. It’s very interesting and quite well done.

I am curious as to whether something like this product would be a good thing? Would it work better than plain ol’ bleach? I recently read about another…but for the life of me I cannot recall the name. Has anybody experience with such additives?

I appreciate Bosque Bill for bringing this really interesting and important study to my attention. I’ve got a large bird bath which fills with snow that I’ve noticed pigeons drinking from on warm afternoons. I’ve been ignoring the thing way out in the middle of my yard (this time of year under a couple feet of snow) and generally frozen solid, as I provide fresh, clean water daily, in a smaller dish…closer to my back door. I plan to remedy the situation before I kill any young hawks!

I look forward to your comments and hope the information encourages folks to keep those feeders and bird baths clean.

Photos from Wikipedia.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Spanish Peaks CBC Results!

This just in:

Spanish Peaks birders braved icy winds but tallied
46 species, 6th best of 20 counts.

Two new birds were added to the Count: a long
overdue Sharp-shinned Hawk and a White-winged
Dove. Both were in Beverly Jensen's yard.
Thanks Beverly!

Count highs include 64 E. Collared Doves,
23 Lewis' Woodpeckers, 7 Spotted Towhees,
and 117 Pine Siskin.

Thanks also to Tom Doerk for a warm place to have
our lunch & his Gray-crowned Rosy Finches.

Other birds of interest were Belted Kingfisher and
Rock Wren, both reported only for the second time
on this Count.

Dave Silverman, compiler
Lake Isabel/Spanish Peaks CBCs

Thanks so much, Dave! Unfortunately no Bushtits, Mtn. Bluebirds, Am. Robins or Ferruginous Hawks - this time; but here are our totals for Spanish Peaks (which, in
case you don't know includes La Veta, where I live and Cuchara...just up the hill.) I think we did well for
such a blustery, cold day when most birds were hunkered down:

Canada Goose - 232, American Wigeon- 4, Mallard - 27, American Green-winged Teal - 3, Wild Turkey - 60, Bald Eagle - 2, Northern Harrier - 1, Sharp-shinned Hawk - 1, Red-tailed Hawk - 3, Golden Eagle - 2, Rock Pigeon - 27, Eurasian Collared-Dove - 64, White-winged Dove - 1, Belted Kingfisher - 1, Lewis's Woodpecker - 23, Downy Woodpecker - 3, Hairy Woodpecker - 2, Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker - 11, Northern Shrike - 2 [Thank you Polly!],
Steller's Jay - 32, Blue Jay - 5, Western Scrub - Jay - 4, Clark's Nutcracker - 1, Black-billed Magpie - 80, American Crow - 15, Common Raven -60, Horned Lark -85, Black-capped Chickadee -27, Mountain Chickadee - 21, White - breasted Nuthatch - 3, Pygmy Nuthatch - 20, Rock Wren - 1, American Dipper - 1, Townsend's Solitaire - 2, European Starling - 93, Spotted Towhee - 7, American Tree Sparrow - 11, Song Sparrow - 4, Dark - eyed Junco - 132 [including one White - winged], Red-winged Blackbird - 16, Gray-crowned Rosy - Finch - 8, House Finch - 51, Pine Siskin - 117, American Goldfinch - 23, Evening Grosbeak - 8, House Sparrow – 60

Friday, January 2, 2009

A New Year

As my first year of birding comes to a close soon (in February), I look forward to continuing my education about birds; how to identify them and were to find them. Highlighs include my first CBC where two new birds were added to the 20-year old list and both were found in my yard!

Other highlights include discovering the Pink Butts; all three Rosy-finches at my feeders, discovering the fact that immature White-crowned Sparrows can have brown, checkerboard heads, teaching myself to discern the difference in three little red birds; House Finches, Cassin’s Finch and Purple Finches…by watching them for long periods of time as each fed outside my window.

In my yard I observed Turkey Vultures who came to roost and Wild Turkey tracks in my front yard; Red-tailed, Swainson’s, Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks who came to dine and several Great Horned Owls who seemed to come to just watch. I also discovered it is folly to feed blackbirds, pretty as they are.

I discovered a bird I’d never even heard of, and celebrated when I identified it as an American Redstart…which I’d never seen anywhere else. Once, I posted a photograph of a very tiny little female hummingbird and set of a Rare-bird Alert throughout the community when ‘Anonymous’ insisted it was a female Calloipe Hummingbird in Colorado…very early in May! I quickly learned the network of birders.

I discovered and got pictures of Lazuli Buntings; Evening, Black-headed and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks; Western Tangiers and Bullock’s Orioles raised families near here, I watched them bring fledglings to the feeders along with White-breasted Nuthatches and both Downey and Hairy Woodpeckers; youngsters that fluttered and begged to ever patient parents.

I learned the Lesser Goldfinch with its dark-black head and black is not at all ‘lesser’ than the American Goldfinch; its a stunning and exotic-looking little bird. I remembered the cackling, calling sound I heard only once before and looked up to see a bunch of Sand-hill Cranes flying high over my home. I tracked a bird-call for days to finally discover what was most likely a Western Wood-pewee. I watched nestlings and their parents at the local golf course.

Most recently, I discovered a White-winged Dove amongst the Eurasian- piggies…I mean collared Doves. While the bird is expanding its range…it is still fairly uncommon yet and some folks were tickled to add the bird to their lists. I also got a photo of a somewhat difficult to find bird right in my own front yard! With the help of a friend we got it identified as a Hermit Thrush. I was tickled pink.

And (!) I was invited to contribute to I and the Bird! Neat! Best of all I’ve gotten to know a whole bunch of really neat people both on the trail and on line, I've gone out and seen even more awesome birds around Colorado and I’ve learned a lot. Blogging just sets it in stone, so to speak. LOL

December Yard Birds included: American Robin, White-breasted Nuthatch, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Flicker - Red-shafted, White-winged Dove, European Starling, Common Raven, Mountain Chickadee, Gray-crowned Rosy-finch, American Crow, Chipping Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-winged Blackbird, Hairy Woodpecker, Song Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Dark-eyed Junco - Oregon, Pink-sided, Slate and Gray-headed, Pine Siskin, Blue Jay, American Goldfinch, Eurasian Collared-Dove, House Finch - red, yellow and orange variants, Black-billed Magpie, House Sparrow.

All photos are mine. LOL...can you tell?
Someday I'll have a decent lens.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Woodpecker Series - Part III

The American Three-toed Woodpecker - Picoides dorsalis are widely considered barometers of the health of old-growth conifer forests in North America, due largely to the species’ apparent dependence on mature and old-growth conifer forests. However, because of their low abundance, habitat choice and generally quiet behavior, it is seen only infrequently and has received little attention from researchers.

On the basis of genetic and voice differences, Old and New World populations of Three-toed Woodpeckers are now considered separate species. Picoides dorsalis and P. articus in the US, and P. tridactylus in Europe and Asia, reflect these changes. In 2003 the “Three-toed Woodpecker” was split into the American Three-toed and Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker. Nearly identical in appearance, they differ in voice and mitochondrial DNA sequences.

The Three-toed Woodpeckers are the only woodpecker common to both Old and New Worlds. It breeds further north than any other woodpecker. There are, currently, eight subspecies (3 Neartic and 5 Palearctic) recognized, although recent molecular data have revealed species-level distinctiveness between a subset of the Nearctic and Palearctic subspecies. This woodpecker is similar to other North American Picoides in having a heavy, chisel-like bill and comparable facial markings and similar to the Black-backed Woodpecker (P. arcticus, previously called the Artic Three-toed Woodpecker) in having three, rather than four toes, and an absence of any red feathering. The males of these species carry yellow feathering on their heads…apparently giving it a somewhat indiscreet history:

"The Indians dislike this bird. They call it . . . “Tikelklala.” They have a legend that this bird, many ages ago, in a time of famine, devoured his mate, and wiped his claws clean on the back of his head; in proof of which, they point to the yellow mark of the “fat,” which remains till this day."

W. H. Dall and H. M. Bannister, 1869

This species’ association with spatially unpredictable disturbance and its large home range make it sensitive to timber harvesting (removal of habitat) and forest fragmentation; both ultimately reduce food availability. Given these habitat requirements, timber harvesting, especially of old-growth coniferous forests, has undoubtedly contributed to population declines in
North America

In Québec’s black spruce-diminated forests, habitat loss due to timber harvesting may often be permanent as Three-toed Woodpeckers are restricted to forests older than scheduled cutting rotations. In Finland, Three-toed Woodpecker density was significantly correlated with the proportion of forest in nature reserves. Areas with more than 100 yr old, large old-growth tracts, the species had not declined, but in smaller old-growth forests, isolated as a result of logging, the species had declined or disappeared.

Forestry practices such as fire suppression, salvage logging (the removal of burned trees) and suppression logging (the cutting of insect infested trees), remove trees on which this species depends. Additionally, the alteration of natural fire intensity, or the replacement of ‘cool’ understory fires to intense stands, contributes to the decline. Historically, forested areas in the northern Rocky Mountains experienced large, intense fires every fifty to one hundred years. No more.

Three-toed Woodpeckers seem very tolerant of humans, so disturbance by people is an unlikely factor to declining populations of this bird.


The Three-toed Woodpecker is a medium-sized black and gray woodpecker. Peter Dunn has referred to this bird as the ‘Shabby Three-toed’ and calls the closely related Black-backed Woodpecker the ‘Sharp-dressed Three-toed’. With a black tail with white outer tail feathers, and black heads with white mustachial and (usually) post-ocular stripes, they can be distinguished from Black-backed Woodpeckers by the barring on their backs and by their slightly smaller size. Their foreheads are also speckled with white rather than being all black like those of Black-backed Woodpeckers, and their white head stripes and yellow crown-patches are less clearly defined. Their grayish-white under parts and flanks spattered with dark barring – enhancing the overall sense of shabbiness.

The distinguishing characteristic of this species is the white “ladder” on its back. The female does not have the yellow cap, but their backs do have the white ladder. Mature birds have white under parts heavily barred with black on the sides and flanks. Upperparts are black, though the primaries are barred with white. The center of the back includes varying amounts of white, as do the outer tail feathers. Its head is mostly black with a white chin and throat and two white stripes; from the base of the bill, below the eye, to behind the ear-coverts and another, which may be more narrow or fainter, extends from behind the eye to the back of the neck. The crown of the male is a yellow patch bordered by white streaks; in the female it is entirely streaked with white, without any yellow at all. Adult plumage is similar throughout the year.

It is most often confused to the Black-backed Woodpecker, with which it is closely related and shares both similar plumage, as well as distribution …though the Black-backed is slightly larger. In addition, the Black-backed Woodpecker has a solid black back and only a trace of white behind the eye; making the upperparts much blacker, overall.

Juveniles are similar to adults but overall duller in color with brown and gray-brown washes. Both sexes may carry a few yellow tipped feathers on the crown…though even if fully yellow, the patch is smaller than that of an adult male.

A female Hairy Woodpecker could be mistaken for a Three-toed, but the Hairy has more white on the head and wing-coverts and no black barring on the flanks; making the lack of contrast between upper and lower parts more distinct in the clean-cut Hairy. It is shaped like Hairy, but has a more oval, rather than square, head and its bill is slightly larger.

The bill of the Three-toed Woodpecker is relatively long, straight and chisel-tipped; eyes are reddish brown; and of course the bird has only three toes…two forward and one back, just like the only other three-toed woodpecker, the Black-backed woodie.

There is marked variation across the entire range, both in proportions of black and white plumage, and also in size. Generally southern populations are darker in color and larger in size.


  • Size: 8 – 8 ¾ inches
  • Wingspan: 15 inches
  • Weight: 2.29 ounces
  • A medium-sized black-and-white woodpecker, more black than white.
  • Head is black with a white mustache stripe and a thin white line behind eye.
  • Throat, breast, and belly are white.
  • White flanks with black barring.
  • Back is white or white barred with black.
  • Rump is black.
  • Black tail with white outer tail feathers.
  • Black wings marked with white spots
    on flight feathers.


The Three-toed Woodpecker is found in boreal forest (or taiga belt) to tree limit in Alaska and Canada; in the Rocky Mountains south to Arizona and New Mexico, and in Cascades to Oregon. In the eastern United States it is found in Adirondack Mountains of New York, and extreme northern New England. During winter, it is primarily resident throughout breeding range, but may winter at lower elevations. Occasional individuals found south of breeding range. It prefers boreal and montane coniferous forests, especially mature forests with an abundance of insect-infested snags and dying trees; and the same in spruce forests. It is an ardent user of forests disturbed by disease, fire, flooding and other disasters, though perhaps less so than Black-backed Woodies.

The Three-toed Woodpeckers prefers spruce forests, the Black-backed likes spruce as well as other coniferous forests. This habitat difference reflected in this distribution of these two closely related species. This woodpecker, like the Black-backed (and to a lesser degree the Hairy Woodpecker), is associated with locally abundant insect outbreaks, often the result of fire. The Three-toed prefers bark beetles, while the Black-backed specializes on wood-boring beetles. While both species are irruptive, their irruptions probably reflect outbreaks in favorite-food infestations.

The logging of forests damaged by fire, insects or even wind-storm blow-down, make the bird vulnerable to fragmented forests. Fire suppression and the salvage of trees by logging fire-damaged areas and areas damaged by insects reduce the abundance of this species favored food…and so the bird itself. Obviously spraying insecticides hurts, as well.

While boreal and montane coniferous forests are preferred by the Three-toed Woodpecker, it especially prefers mature or old-growth forests with a large amount of insect-infested snags and dying trees. It often inhabits moist-to-swampy areas; wet forests may best describe the preferred micro-climate of this species. It prefers denser forests than the Black-backed Woodpecker, though it may occupy more open areas in the wintertime. During irruptions, it is often found in urban areas.

This bird is normally a permanent resident, but northern birds may move south and birds at high elevations may move to lower levels in winter. It is likely to give way to the Black-backed Woodpecker where the two species compete for habitat.

Concentrations of this species occur in recently burned areas (within 3 yrs) and forests heavily damaged by bark beetles. Cohabitants include Black-backed Woodpecker, Western Wood Pewee, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Gray Jay and Boreal Chickadees.


The Three-toed Woodpecker feeds primarily on the larvae of bark beetles and the larvae of wood-boring beetles, as well as other insects, with some fruit, minimal vegetable material (cambium), and sap, when they visit sapsucker wells; sexual differences in diet
has been noted. Foraging birds work trees tenaciously hammering and flaking off bark. Birds often return to the same trees until the bark is stripped, an indicator
of their presence. It forages mostly on trunks rather than on branches or fallen logs and is not known to
store food.

Big infestations of wood-boring insects concentrate the bird in these areas; the three-toed takes full advantage of the bonanza. In areas where there has been an explosion of the bark beetle, they often provide the most effective control of that major forest pest.


This species is often described as tame or easy to approach, but quiet and difficult to find; it is generally uncommon (or even rare) and local. These traits make it difficult to track population trends, though in North America data suggests the bird is declining just as it is in northern Europe.

Again, because of the low abundance of the species, seasonal movements are difficult to track. There is no regular north to south migration, but as with many species winter observations suggest movement may occur. Also, there is regular dispersal of juveniles in fall and early winter. These woodpeckers can also be irruptive, though irruptions are sporadic and localized and mainly occurring in eastern North America. This bird is less irruptive, travels shorter distances and moves later than the Black-backed Woodpecker…and again the irruptions of the two species is not always coincident.

They often perch against tree trunks, and are usually solitary, although pairs may forage together. Similar to most Picoides; this bird spends most of foraging time clinging to and climbing vertical surfaces of trees. Like Black-backed Woodpeckers, they scale the bark off dead and dying trees while foraging, a behavior that often reveals their presence in an area. However, it works higher up on the trunk than the Black-backed woodies…and are reported to favor trees only moderately, not wholly, blackened by fire. This makes sense…their plumage nearly replicates the bark pattern of fire-scored—not scorched and blackened—trees.

Not shy, often allows close approach. Though it does not respond well to pishing, author Stephen Brown discovered he had often been able to coax them quite close by tapping a twig against a tree trunk.

Quick and nimble, the Three-toed’s wing beats are somewhat crisp and stiff; though it undulates through the air like other woodpeckers.

In winter and in cold, wet weather it frequently roosts in old nests, especially if wounded or pursued.


Bogs and logged areas with dead standing conifers make good breeding areas for the Three-toed Woodpecker. They form monogamous pairs and often stay together for more than one season. Typically they raise only a single brood each year.

Nesting season begins with much tree drumming by the male, which attracts females and informs other males of his territorial dominance. He also does a lot of head swaying and calls more loudly than usual.

Nesting habitat includes coniferous forests or logged areas and swamps. A cavity nest is dug by both sexes and is placed 5 to 50 feet high in a stump or other dead or dying tree, and often near water. The entrance is about 1 ¾ by 2 inches), and the cavity is about 10 to 15 inches deep.

Nests are built in May and June; the female generally lays four eggs in the nest; both the male and female share the incubation of them. Incubation occurs for two weeks and the young will fledge the nest 22 to 26 days after hatching; by early August. Eggs laid, hatch in two weeks…more than three weeks till they take first flight from nest. It is another four to eight weeks before they are totally on their own. The young are flying and independent by late July or so.

Parents appear to divide the brood as it fledges. Young often sit quietly waiting for adults to come to them, but will also fly after adults; the family maintains regular vocal contact. While being fed, fledglings call loudly with gaping bill.

Interesting Facts

The American Three-toed Woodpecker breeds farther north than any other American woodpecker. The closely related Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker is the only woodpecker in the world that extends farther north.

The "Three-toed Woodpecker" was split in 2003 into the American Three-toed and Eurasian Three-toed woodpeckers. The two species are nearly identical in appearance, but differ in mitochondrial DNA sequences and in voice

Most woodpeckers have four toes on each foot. The three-toed and Black-backed woodpeckers have only three. The loss of the fourth toe may help deliver stronger blows, but at the expense of climbing ability.


The call of this woodpecker is a sharp ‘wik’ that closely resembles the Downey Woodpecker. Its drumming is variable; usually short and unfrequently given.

Behavior and calls are less developed than that of the Black-backed, with whom the Three-toed is often confused. The Three-toed has a higher-pitched, longer and less metallic call. Drumming is also slower and shorter than that of the Black-backed.

Sources: Photos: