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An American Three-toed Woodpecker

February 8, 2013

I was out running – slogging through snow and sliding along melting trails when I heard a soft tap, tap, tapping. I worked my way through the snow and up the bank to investigate. The American Three-toed Woodpecker making all the noise ignored me and kept on busily prying up pieces of bark.

Taking time to check me out

Taking time to check me out

busily scaling for insects

busily scaling for insects

I don’t see this woodpecker all that often. The three-toed woodpecker feeds mostly on bark beetles and their larvae. Three-toed population size in an area varies with the amount of food available, so the greater the number of bark beetles, the greater the number of three-toed woodpeckers. The male and female feed on separate feeding grounds even in the breeding season and work diligently at extracting insects from one tree before moving on to another. Other woodpeckers may drill holes in the wood to find food, but the three-toed usually “scales” to find its food. The bird pries up pieces of bark and tosses them aside as it looks for grubs and other insects. If you look closely, you can see that a recently “scaled” tree has lighter patches where the three-toed has pried off some outer bark.

Juvenile Three-toed

American Three-toed Woodpecker

A juvenile three-toed woodpecker

An American Three-toed Woodpecker

And yes, the American Three-toed Woodpecker has only three toes – unlike most woodpeckers who have four toes. I suppose, given the bird’s name, that fact may be self-evident. But then again, we also have “Hairy” Woodpeckers. Having only three toes allows the bird to brace itself very effectively against the tree. It may be harder to climb with fewer toes, but the bird I was watching managed just fine.

The Three-toed Woodpecker supposedly stays feeding in the same patch of trees for long periods of time. I hope she will be there when I go back tomorrow.

All photos and writing in this blog copyright Joanne A. Siderius 2013.

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