Three-Toed Woodpeckers

Member of the Picidae Family: WoodpeckersSapsuckersFlickers

Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker

Three-Toed Woodpecker includes one American and one European species:


The Three-toed Woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker.

The adult is 21.5-24 cm in length.

It is black on the head, wings and rump, and white from the throat to the belly; the flanks are white with black bars. The back is white with black bars, and the tail is black with the white outer feathers barred with black. The adult male has a yellow cap.

In North America, the Three-toed Woodpecker can be confused with the Black-backed Woodpecker, which it closely resembles. Identification is easier in Eurasia, where it is the only woodpecker with a yellow cap, the only one with three toes, and one of only two black-and-white woodpeckers that lack any red in the plumage.

American Three-toed Woodpecker - Picoides dorsalis (Male)

Distribution / Range:

The breeding habitat is coniferous forests across western Canada, Alaska and the midwestern United States, and across northern Eurasia from Norway to Korea. Thereare also populations in the Alps and the Carpathian Mountains.

This bird is normally a permanent resident, but northern birds may move south and birds at high elevations may move to lower levels in winter.

In North America, this bird is likely to give way to the Black-backed Woodpecker where the two species compete for habitat.

Nesting / Breeding:

Three-toed Woodpeckers nest in a cavity in a dead conifer or sometimes a live tree or pole.

The pair excavates a new nest each year.


Three-toed Woodpeckers forage on conifers in search of wood-boring beetle larvae or other insects.

They may also eat fruit and tree sap. These birds often move into areas with large numbers of insect-infested trees, often following a forest fire or flooding.

Photo of author

Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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