A Black-backed Woodpecker hard at work

Summer is upon us and that means that the birds are hard at work seeking mates and creating safe havens to raise their young. This video shows an industrious male Black-backed Woodpecker hard at work excavating a nest cavity in a pine tree near Mount Lassen, California. We filmed him right next to our campsite and he didn’t seem to mind at all!


Learn More about the Black-backed Woodpecker

Here’s a bit more about the Black-backed Woodpecker, Picoides arcticus, from Stephen Shunk, author of The Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America. An excerpt from the book:

“One of the handsomest members of the Picidae worldwide, the Black-backed Woodpecker sports a glossy black tuxedo, blending perfectly against the charred boles of burned conifers across its range. On the extreme end of the specialization spectrum, the Black-backed may be the best adapted woodpecker in the world for extracting woodboring beetle larvae from the cambium of infested trees.

Once recognized as a “conservator of the forest” with its insatiable hunger for wood-destroying beetle larvae, the Black-backed Woodpecker receives little credit today for its role in managing insect outbreaks. A woodpecker must chisel its way to the inside of the tree and dispose of the displaced material. Observing a woodpecker in the ritual “tossing of the chips” is nothing short of entertaining.
In a quiet forest, the attentive birder might hear an incessant hammering and look around for the source of the sound. Then the sound will stop, and a woodpecker will stick its head out of a cavity entrance with a bill full of wood chips, tossing it pell-mell to the forest floor.
By excavating their own roost and nest cavities, woodpeckers provide nest sites for more than 45 species of North American birds, not including the 23 woodpeckers themselves. In addition to birds, numerous small mammals and a few reptiles also occupy abandoned woodpecker cavities, along with innumerable invertebrates, bacteria, and fungi.
Ecology aside, the Black-backed Woodpecker’s engaging behavior and its stunning wardrobe make it simply a fun bird to watch in North American forests.”


Here’s a handout for you on how to draw a woodpecker. Enjoy!