In Search of the Three-toed Woodpecker

There are two species of three-toed woodpeckers that can be seen in Calgary.  They are the American Three-toed Woodpecker and the Black-backed Woodpecker.  Both of these woodpeckers are residents of the boreal forest.  They can occasionally be seen here during the winter months in the west end of the city, where the forest creeps in.  I, however, have never seen a Black-backed Woodpecker anywhere, and I’ve only seen American Three-toed Woodpeckers outside of Calgary.  But last week, with the expert guidance of Gus Yaki during an outing with the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society (FFCPPS), I was finally rewarded with close-up views of the American Three-toed Woodpecker. 

Last Saturday’s FFCPPS outing was to Bebo Grove in Fish Creek Park, where we searched a stand of spruce south of bridge #5.  An American Three-toed Woodpecker has been seen occasionally in this area all winter.

Bebo Grove, Fish Creek Park.  Access the parking lot from 24 Street SW in Woodbine.

There are many dying spruce trees in this area because of the high water levels.  When a spruce dies, wood-boring beetles move in, which in turn provide a food source for the woodpecker.  The birds chip off chunks of the bark to get at the larvae.  Listen for the soft tapping of the woodpecker, and look for trees which have the reddish-coloured wood under the bark exposed.  The bark chips will be scattered at the foot of the tree.

The tree on the right has had the bark chipped off by a woodpecker,
exposing the reddish wood below.

Bark chips on the snow under this tree show that a woodpecker has been feeding here recently.

We quickly found the bird, a male, working on a dying spruce.  (Males have a yellow patch on the top of their head).  These birds are not timid around people, so we were able to get quite close to watch it worry the bark.

 Hammering at the bark – wood bits flying!

 Prying up a bark chip.

“Maybe if I go at it from this angle…”

This bird will probably move out of the city to breed before too long, so if you want to see it this season, you’ll have to get out there soon.  Meanwhile, I’ll be in Griffith Woods Park looking for the elusive Black-backed Woodpecker. 

Good birding!

Bob Lefebvre



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