Plants and Animals

Picoides arcticus Black-backed woodpecker

Key Characteristics

This relatively large woodpecker has a wingspan of 16 inches (40 cm) and length of 9.5 inches (24 cm). Black-backed woodpeckers appear large-headed and short-tailed. Adults are all black with a bluish gloss above and a distinct white malar stripe. The belly and breast are white but the sides and flanks are barred with black. The Black-backed woodpecker is one of only two woodpecker species with three toes. Adult males have a yellow crown patch while adult females have an all black crown. The call note sounds like "churt" or "kyik" and is given year round.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: SC - Special Concern (rare or uncertain; not legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S2 - Imperiled


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Alger 1 1993
Baraga 1 2000
Chippewa 5 2016
Delta 2 1990
Dickinson 1 1984
Lake 1 2011
Luce 1 2003
Mackinac 1 2009
Marquette 1 2015
Oscoda 1 2008
Schoolcraft 1 2016

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Black-backed woodpeckers occur in northern coniferous forests, and are particularly found in areas that are swampy or have been recently burned or selectively logged. They may also be found in mesic hardwood forests with a significant conifer component.

Specific Habitat Needs

Snag/cavity needed in: Boreal forest.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Management for the bird requires large tracts, or patchworks, of habitat that are maintained by fire and other large-scale forest disturbances. Prescribed burning programs of adequate size could improve quality and quantity of invertebrate food resources and nesting sites for the woodpecker. Maintaining viable populations of Black-backed woodpeckers will necessitate the delay of salvage logging until several years after a fire. Large forest stands should be conserved. Where post-fire salvage logging is planned it should be delayed until 5 years after the burn and retain snags in clumps rather than evenly spaced distributions and retain >100 snags/ha that are >23 cm dbh. Allowing wildfires to burn in some forests with high fire risk to produce stand-replacing conditions and subsequent beetle outbreaks may benefit the woodpeckers.

Active Period

Nesting from first week of May to fourth week of June

Survey Methods

Black-backed woodpeckers are most responsive to tape playbacks of species-specific drumming during the nesting season. Barred owl calls may also elicit a response. Vocalizations and drumming are most readily heard 1/2 hour after sunrise, with a peak about 1-2 hours later. Responses continue throughout the day but are more variable. Just before sunset responsiveness increases, but not to the consistency of morning hours. This bird can be difficult to detect in mature forest stands and may require multiple visits to determine site occupancy.

Play predatory call

Survey Period: From first week of May to fourth week of June

Time of Day: Morning (sunrise)

Play species-specific drumming

Survey Period: From first week of May to fourth week of June

Time of Day: Morning (sunrise)


Survey References

  • Bibby, C.J., N.D. Burgess, and D.A. Hill. 1992. Bird Census Techniques. Academic Press, New York.

Technical References

  • Olson, J. A. 2002. Special Animal Abstract for Picoides arcticus (Black-backed woodpecker). Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing, MI. 5pp.

More Information