Black-backed Woodpecker

Our most enigmatic, or mysterious, Woodpecker is the Black-backed, Picoides arcticus. Yesterday while hiking on the Herriman Lake Trail, I found a nice male Black-backed Woodpecker.

Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker

This Woodpecker is differentiated from our familiar Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers by a completely black back. They also only have 3 toes, compared to 4 toes on other Woodpeckers.

Black-backed Woodpecker, male

Black-backed Woodpecker, male

The male Woodpecker has a yellow patch on top of its head. That yellow spot, in the above photo, is not part of the yellow leaves that he’s hiding behind.

Black-backed Woodpecker-female

Black-backed Woodpecker-female

On Sunday, I found a female Black-backed on the Vermilion Gorge Hiking Trail. Their call is so different than other Woodpeckers, it is easy to pick out.  And that is what alerted me to her presence in the first place. The shrill cry and loud rattle the bird makes as it flies from tree to tree is unmistakable.

The Black-backed Woodpecker occurs only in the northern tier of North America where it makes its permanent home in the Spruce and Pine forests. And in northern Minnesota there is a resident population that breeds in the boreal forest, but in the fall there is also a seasonal migration of birds that come down from up north. We usually have an influx of Black-backeds that come through in the late fall. These birds migrate along the shore of Lake Superior and many are counted in the fall at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth. Where they go from there remains a mystery. Rarely are Black-backed Woodpeckers reported south of Duluth. I really like the old name for the bird which was Arctic Three-toed Woodpecker. That name sounds more mysterious to me.

It was a good day for other fall migrants as well.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

This Hermit Thrush looks like it was floating on cloud of yellow leaves.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

The Hermit Thrush is usually the first spot-breasted Thrush to migrate north in the Spring and the last one to leave the north woods in the Fall. One reason is their ability to change their diet from insects to fruits and seeds. In the woods Hermit Thrushes might be found close to Mountain Ash trees and other fruit bearing shrubs where they eat the ripe berries.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

Other migrants were Fox Sparrows, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Juncos and Yellow-rumped Warblers. The woods right now are full of Yellow-rumped Warblers – and they usually mark the end of the Warbler migration – Yellow-rumped are generally the last ones to move through. Yellow-rumped are one of the few Warblers that are able to change their diets to seeds and fruit in the winter and so they don’t need to migrate as early, or as far south, as other Warblers.

There is a theme going on here – we are moving into the next season – and it’s almost time for our winter visitants to come south to spend the winter in “balmy” Crane Lake. Look and listen for Pine Grosbeaks – they could be arriving any day now.

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1 Response to Black-backed Woodpecker

  1. I haven’t seen a Fox Sparrow since last fall. I love them and hope to see a few this fall. That HErmit Thrush does look like it’s levitating! Those boreal woodpeckers are such a treat to see when they come down in winter.

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