Animals

Three-Toed Woodpecker: 21 Facts You Won't Believe!

Three-Toed Woodpecker Fact File
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These three-toed woodpeckers of the genus Picoides have two distinct species: the American three-toed woodpecker (Picoides dorsalis) that is endemic to North America and the Eurasian three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus) that is found in northern Europe, Asia, and Japan. Both the American and Eurasian natives inhabit coniferous forests and prefer to nest in the cavities of dead trees. These birds particularly prefer spruce trees for their nesting and foraging needs. Another species of three-toed woodpecker is the black-backed woodpecker (Picoides arcticus), who is also a native of North America.

American and Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers have largely similar physical appearances; the plumage of both species of birds is predominantly black and white with male birds having a typical yellow crown or head patch. Other than that, there is no significant difference between the sexes. The face is mainly black with white stripes. The wings, back, flanks and outer feathers are all white and black barred and black-backed woodpeckers specifically have entirely black wings and backs. American three-toed woodpeckers bear a close resemblance to the black-backed woodpecker species of the North American boreal forests. Moreover, the black-backed woodpecker and the American three-toed woodpecker share a common habit of flaking bark off tree trunks.

Northern populations of both the Eurasian and American woodpecker species are known to take part in migration outside of their breeding range. These birds are mainly insectivorous, with the bulk of their diet made up of the wood-boring beetle larva.

Do you find these three-toed woodpecker birds fascinating? Read on to discover more interesting facts about the North American and Eurasian species.

For more relatable content, check out these white woodpecker facts and pale-billed woodpecker facts for kids.

Three-Toed Woodpecker

Fact File

What do they prey on?

Insects, insect larvae, spruce bark beetles, wood-boring beetle larvae

What do they eat?

Omnivores

Average litter size?

3-5 eggs

How much do they weigh?

1.6-2.3 oz (46-66 g)

How long are they?

American three-toed woodpecker:  8.3-9 in (21-23 cm)

Eurasian three-toed woodpecker: 7.9-9.4 in (20-24 cm)

How tall are they?

N/A

What do they look like?

Black and white

Skin Type

Feathers

What are their main threats?

Commercial logging, removal of dead trees, fire suppression

What is their conservation status?

Least Concern

Where you'll find them

Coniferous forests

Locations

North America, northern Europe, northern Asia, Japan

Kingdom

Animalia

Class

Aves

Scientific Name

American three-toed woodpecker: Picoides dorsalis Eurasian three-toed woodpecker: Picoides tridactylus

Family

Picidae

Genus

Picoides

Three-Toed Woodpecker Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a three-toed woodpecker?

A three-toed woodpecker is a woodpecker species of the genus Picoides and the family Picidae.

What class of animal does a three-toed woodpecker belong to?

Three-toed woodpeckers belong to the class Aves which includes all birds.

How many three-toed woodpeckers are there in the world?

According to a 2016 assessment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, 6,000,000-14,999,999 mature individuals of the Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers are present globally.

Where does a three-toed woodpecker live?

The American three-toed woodpecker (Picoides dorsalis) inhabits montane and boreal coniferous forests, particularly those associated with spruce trees. The species may also be found in moist, swampy areas in the southern limits of its range. Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers also flourish in mature, boreal, and mixed conifer forests. Outside their breeding season, these birds may move to more open areas or brush habitats.

What is a three-toed woodpecker's habitat?

The geographical range of American three-toed woodpecker birds includes Alaska, Canada, the western United States, and the eastern United States. These birds are normally permanent residents within their breeding range, but some populations at high elevations may undertake migration to lower elevations during winter.

Populations of the Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers are distributed throughout Moscow, Latvia, southern Scandinavia, northern Mongolia, the Tomsk region of western Siberia, northeast Korea, Manchuria, and Sakhalin. Isolated populations are present in the Alps, the Balkans, the Carpathians, Bulgaria, northern Greece, Kamchatka, the western mountains of China, and Hokkaido in Japan. Like the American three-toed woodpecker, mountain populations of the Eurasian species are known to migrate to lower elevations.

Three-toed woodpecker birds are heavily dependent on insect-infested or dead and dying trees for nesting and foraging. The Eurasian variety also has a preference for burned forests or regions where there have been wind disturbances. Like their American three-toed woodpecker cousin, the Eurasian bird is common in spruce, fir, ash-alder, and oak-hornbeam forest habitats of Europe and the larch taiga forests of Siberia.

Who do three-toed woodpeckers live with?

Eurasian and American three-toed woodpeckers mainly lead solitary lives but are paired during the breeding season. However, these birds may be found in high densities in a forest with dead or dying trees. Aggressive behavior is reported among these birds.

How long does a three-toed woodpecker live?

The American three-toed woodpecker has a maximum lifespan of six years in the wild.

How do they reproduce?

Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers begin their courtship behavior from late March. Typical courtship behavior and gestures include an erect crest, head swinging, bill pointing, and a fluttering aerial display. During the breeding season, adult birds excavate their nest in dead tree trunks or in the dead parts of live trees with heart rot. They prefer spruce or other conifers to build their nest, and the hole is made about 6.6-32.8 ft (2-10 m) above the ground. However, their nesting is not limited to conifers alone and may also include non-coniferous species such as Betula, Populus, and Alnus.

Both male and female birds participate in excavating the nest. Pairs usually build a new nest cavity in a dead or dying tree every year. The incubation period may range between 11-14 days. After this period of 11-14 days, the female bird lays a clutch of around three to five eggs (usually four and rarely seven). Both males and females care for the young and share nest duties. The young birds fledge at around 20 days of age and breed for the first time when they are about a year old.

What is their conservation status?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species categorizes both the American and the Eurasian three-toed woodpecker bird species to be of Least Concern with a stable population.

Three-Toed Woodpecker Fun Facts

What does a three-toed woodpecker look like?

Eurasian and American three-toed woodpeckers are medium-sized birds with predominantly black and white plumage and a more or less similar appearance. Eurasian and American three-toed woodpecker adults have white underparts with flanks and sides adorned with black bars. The upperparts are black, but the primary feathers are barred with white. The throat is white, and the head and wings are mostly black. In addition, a white stripe extends from the base of the bill below the eye to the ears, and another white stripe stretches from behind the eye to the back of the neck.

The two sexes are not very different in terms of appearance. Males have a prominent yellow crown bordered by white streaks. Females do not have a yellow patch, but their crown region is entirely streaked with white. The bill is straight and long with a chisel tip; it is gray-black or slaty and gets paler towards the tip. The tail is black with three white outer pairs of tail feathers with black bars at the tips. Each of the two feet has three toes, one backward and two forward. Young birds look more or less like their adult counterparts but are duller with buff underparts and brownish spots on the flanks. Both male and female young birds usually have a yellow crown patch like the adult male.

Three-toed woodpecker males have a yellow crown.

How cute are they?

These Eurasian and American three-toed woodpecker birds' small size and patterned plumage make them look pretty cute and adorable.

How do they communicate?

The American three-toed woodpecker species emits a variety of vocal sounds to communicate. The typical call note has been described as 'kik', 'pik', 'quip', 'queep', or 'pip'. These birds are most vocal during the breeding season, and their range of calls include the rattle call for territorial and threat displays and interspecific aggressive confrontations, the twitter call for courtships, loud chirp and squeak calls given by nestlings, screech calls of adults, and distress cries to show severe distress. Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers are also quite vocal and are known to emit short, rattling 'kri-kri-kri' sounds when alarmed. Both sexes of either species use drumming sounds. Drumming surfaces usually include dead trees with less bark cover and a broken top.

How big is a three-toed woodpecker?

The average American three-toed woodpecker has a length in the range of 8.3-9 in (21-23 cm) and a Eurasian three-toed woodpecker would have a length range of 7.9-9.4 in (20-24 cm). Their length is comparable to that of the North American black-backed woodpecker (Picoides arcticus).

How fast can a three-toed woodpecker fly?

The flight speed of the Eurasian or American three-toed woodpecker is not currently available.

How much does a three-toed woodpecker weigh?

A medium-sized three-toed woodpecker weighs between 1.6-2.3 oz (46-66 g).

What are the male and female names of the species?

Male and female woodpeckers do not have distinct names.

What would you call a baby three-toed woodpecker?

Like most other birds, baby woodpeckers are called a nestling, hatchling, or chick.

What do they eat?

This woodpecker species feeds on various insects, insect larvae, spruce bark beetles, and wood-boring beetle larvae. Besides insects, these birds may also eat fruits and tree sap.

Are they dangerous?

These woodpeckers are not known to be dangerous towards humans. However, the birds do exhibit aggressive behavior towards their own kind.

Would they make a good pet?

Woodpeckers like the three-toed woodpecker and red-bellied woodpecker are not particularly friendly towards humans, and it is illegal to keep these wild birds as pets.

Did you know...

The first formal description of Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers was given in 1758 by Carl Linneaus. He called it Picus tridactylus. The specific epithet in its scientific name is derived from the ancient Greek word 'tridaktulos', which means 'three-toed'. It was in 1799 that the French naturalist Bernard Germain de Lacépède placed the birds in the genus Picoides. Eurasian woodpeckers have eight recognized subspecies.

What are woodpecker predators?

Some natural predators of woodpeckers include bobcats, feral cats, hawks, foxes, and coyotes. Woodpeckers' eggs are often preyed upon by grackles, snakes, and predatory birds.

What do woodpeckers use their feet for?

The toes of woodpeckers are adapted to help the birds climb trees efficiently. The forward and backward-facing toes spread out to provide a firm grip on tree trunks. Moreover, the bird presses its stiff tail feathers against tree trunks for support, which further aids it in climbing.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other birds from our blue grosbeak facts and yellow-billed cuckoo facts pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable black bird outline coloring pages.

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