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March 29, 2017

Bird of the Week – American Three-toed Woodpecker

We’ll go back to woodpeckers for a while. The American Three-toed Woodpecker is a medium-sized black-and-white woodpecker. The male has a small yellow patch on his forehead.

American Three-toed Woodpecker, Upper Chena River Valley

American Three-toed Woodpecker, Upper Chena River Valley

The feet do indeed have only three toes, instead of the more common four: 2 forward and 1 backward. (The Black-backed Woodpecker has the same configuration.)

The Three-toed can be a difficult bird to find. Unlike other woodpeckers, it doesn’t drill. Instead, it flakes off pieces of spruce bark to get to insects. It prefers spruce bark beetles, but is otherwise a generalist. Three-toeds will drum to establish territory, often picking a dead limb.

Like the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, the Three-toed generally hangs around all winter, although they can be irruptive.

For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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3 Responses to “Bird of the Week – American Three-toed Woodpecker”
  1. Birds of North America, an on-line resource, says:

    Most woodpeckers have four toes on each foot. The three-toed and Black-backed woodpeckers have only three. The loss of the fourth toe may help deliver stronger blows, but at the expense of climbing ability.

  2. mike from iowa says:

    I’ll bite. What sort of evolutionary advantage is there to having three instead of four toes? It would save time inventorying body parts, but that is about all.

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