Bird Database

Black-backed Woodpecker

(Picoides arcticus)

State of the Birds
At a Glance







Habitat loss and fragmentation, Climate change

Conservation Actions

Protect unfragmented blocks of spruce-fir forest

Black-backed Woodpecker

(Picoides arcticus)

Across most of its wide distribution in the boreal forest and western mountains, the Black-backed Woodpecker’s namesake plumage feature serves as effective camouflage against the burned trunks of coniferous trees. This woodpecker is a specialist on beetles that appear in dead or dying trees, often in areas that have recently burned. Large forest fires are rare here at the southeastern edge of the species’ range, and as a result so are Black-backed Woodpeckers. They will still use a variety of spruce and fir habitat from the White Mountains north, but still tend to be restricted to areas with dying trees.

In much of its range, this reliance on insect infestations results in fluctuating local populations. Like many other species of the boreal forest, Black-backed Woodpeckers can have high reproductive output in years with abundant food, leading in turn to more dispersing juveniles in the fall. These young birds can show up far away from breeding habitat; there are records as far away as Nantucket and southern New Jersey. In New Hampshire, there are only a handful of such records south of the White Mountains, so it is not to be expected! With a spruce budworm outbreak and more frequent fires in eastern Canada in the early 21st century, it’s possible there may be an uptick in New Hampshire sightings as populations to the north respond to these disturbances.

The closely-related American Three-toed Woodpecker is extremely rare in the state, although according to historic records it was the commoner of the two in the 1800s. There were only three reported during the New Hampshire Breeding Bird Atlas in the early 1980s, and no verified records since 2000. It may still occur sporadically in isolated spruce and fir forests but is no longer likely to be a reliable breeding species. Like its more common relative, it uses forests impacted heavily by bark beetles.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Black-backed Woodpecker
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count