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Bird Habitat Conservation Toolkit

Image of Bird
This soot-coloured woodpecker hunts for bark and wood-boring beetles in burned and very old coniferous forests. The subtle sound of it flicking bark off trees, or drilling for beetle grubs, announces its presence.

Black-backed Woodpecker

(Picoides arcticus)
Overview
status
AlbertaSensitive
British ColumbiaYellow
Primary Habitat
Burned Coniferous
Nest Type
Cavity (conifer snag)
Territory Size
20 - 825 ha
Nest Reuse
Rare
Breeding Window
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Peak: late-June to mid-August
Stand-Level
Retention patches of conifer snags >23–40 cm dbh during salvage
Landscape-Level
Young (<8-year-old) burns and coniferous forest stands >110 years old

Habitat Ecology

  • Black-backed Woodpeckers are most common in 2–8 years post-fire conifer-dominated forests that have not been logged or salvaged.1–3
  • Forest types include spruce, tamarack, Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, and jack pine.4
  • They are negatively associated with high densities of deciduous trees.2
  • They are most abundant in stands with high densities of smaller-diameter burned conifers (e.g., ≥23 cm dbh in Douglas fir/ponderosa pine5 or 14–19 cm dbh in boreal jack pine/spruce3).
  • They excavate nests in large-diameter trees and snags with low decay.1
  • Conifer forests >110 years old likely provide important habitat when recently burned forest is not available.3

Response to Forest Management

  • Black-backed woodpeckers are strongly negatively affected by postfire salvage logging, which removes both foraging and nesting habitat.4
  • Salvage logging of Mountain Pine Beetle-killed stands may also have a negative effect.6
  • Within salvage-logged stands, woodpeckers nested in retention patches even when dispersed trees were available.5
  • Summer wildfires in coniferous forests create higher-quality foraging habitat than fall/winter prescribed burns or MPB infestations.7

Stand-level Recommendations

  • Patch retention during salvage logging of burned forests is strongly recommended:
  • Retention patches containing both small-diameter trees for foraging and larger-diameter trees for nesting are recommended. Average recommended densities across the salvaged area are >104–123 trees or snags/ha (>23 cm dbh).5
  • Retention recommendations range from trees or snags >23 cm dbh for Black-backed Woodpeckers5, to >40 cm dbh to provide habitat for a range of primary and secondary cavity nesters including Black-backed Woodpeckers.8
  • Given the high densities of burned trees/snags preferred by this species, clearcut areas exceeding 2.5 ha are discouraged within salvage areas.4
  • Planners should include patches located far from the edges of unburned forest, as unburned forest is a source of nest predators.9 Black spruce-dominated forest is the exception to this recommendation.10

Landscape-level Recommendations

  • Recent postfire coniferous forest is the most valuable habitat for Black-backed Woodpeckers. Old coniferous forests (>110 years) at levels derived from NRV analyses should be represented on the landscape to support this species where and when postfire stands <8 years old are unavailable.3
  • Old coniferous forests >100 up to >380 ha should be conserved if possible given reported home range sizes in unburned forest.⁴

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