Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus)
Life History & Michigan History
Michigan often sits on the northern edge of the range for a number of
species. For the black-backed woodpecker, Michigan sits on the southern edge.
This woodpecker, was also known as the three-toed arctic woodpecker, is
primarily found in northern boreal forests.
black-backed woodpecker is a small woodpecker ranging 8-9 inches in length.
Males can be easily identified by the yellow patch of feathers on the crown of
their black head. Both sexes have a glossy, black back with some barring on the
primary feathers. A white stripe runs from behind their bill down under their
In Michigan, these woodpeckers are most abundant in the Upper Peninsula. They
prefer habitats with growing tree species similar to their boreal forest. Black
spruce and tamarack swamps, white cedar swamps, eastern hemlock, and jack pine
forests all provide good habitat. Like most woodpeckers, they feed on insects
living in dead or diseased trees. Places disturbed by fire or even beaver
floodings can provide good food sources. They hunt for wood boring insects by
peeling patches of dead bark.
Black-backed woodpeckers in northern lower Michigan are associated with jack
pine areas and can often be seen in the same areas as Kirtlandís warblers.
Historically, wildfires kept an abundant supply of dying timber. Modern forest
management practices in jack pine stands provide abundant snags (dead trees) for
woodpeckers to forage (feed). Nest cavities are made in live conifer trees with
the entrance usually 8-15 feet above ground. Each nest will contain two-six eggs
which hatch after 14 days of incubation.
Keeping these special woodpeckers in Michigan will require that natural
processes, beaver floodings, and forest management activities like prescribed
burns and leaving snags continue to provide foraging places for these northern
Identification Tips & More (USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center)
Picoides arcticus (NatureServe)
Picoides arcticus (University of Michigan, Museum of Zoology)