American Three-toed Woodpecker - Picoides dorsalis
(see State Rank Reason below)
State Rank Reason (see State Rank above)
Species is apparently secure and not at risk of extirpation or facing significant threats in all or most of its range.
- Details on Status Ranking and Review
ScoreU - Unknown
ScoreF - 20,000-200,000 km squared (about 8,000-80,000 square miles)
Comment179664 square kilometers based on Natural Heritage Program range maps
Area of Occupancy
ScoreG - 2,000-20,000 km squared (500,000-5,000,000 acres)
Comment5311 square kilometers based on GAP predicted model.
ScoreE - Relatively Stable (±25% change)
CommentMature conifer forests disturbed by fire and insects stable within +/- 25% since European arrival.
ScoreE - Stable. Population, range, area occupied, and/or number or condition of occurrences unchanged or remaining within ±10% fluctuation
CommentOnly on three Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) routes in Montana and low credibility for surrounding states. The Landbird Monitoring Program detected them at a higher rate in post fire forests and spruce-fir forests. These habitats seem to be increasing in Montana.
ScoreG - Slightly threatened. Threats, while recognizable, are of low severity, or affecting only a small portion of the population or area.
CommentNo major threat identified, but need long-term balance of fire and insect disturbance. Need to have groups of large snags on the landscape with recently dead or dying trees.
SeverityLow - Low but nontrivial reduction of species population or reversible degradation or reduction of habitat in area affected, with recovery expected in 10-50 years.
CommentSpecies seems to rely on a mix of habitat resulting from some level of disturbance
ScopeLow - 5-20% of total population or area affected
CommentSpecies seems to rely on a mix of habitat resulting from some level of disturbance
ImmediacyLow - Threat is likely to be operational within 5-20 years.
CommentNo immediate threats identified
ScoreC - Not Intrinsically Vulnerable. Species matures quickly, reproduces frequently, and/or has high fecundity such that populations recover quickly (< 5 years or 2 generations) from decreases in abundance; or species has high dispersal capability such that extirpated populations soon become reestablished through natural recolonization (unaided by humans).
ScoreB - Narrow. Specialist. Specific habitat(s) or other abiotic and/or biotic factors (see above) are used or required by the Element, but these key requirements are common and within the generalized range of the species within the area of interest.
CommentNeed dead or dying trees.
The adult male has a yellow crown, black forehead that is more or less spotted with dull white, black back and sides that are usually broadly barred with white, secondary feathers that are distinctly spotted with white and quills with white spots (Gabrielson and Lincoln 1959). The adult female is similar to the adult male but without any yellow on the head. The female's forehead and crown is usually spotted or streaked with grayish-white but sometimes is completely black. Immatures are similar to adults. Young woodpeckers are naked and blind when hatched (Gabrielson and Lincoln 1959).
American Three-toed Woodpeckers make tapping sounds while feeding. In the spring and summer you can hear courtship drumming. The call is a rattle similar to that of the Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus
) (Adams, personal communication) although the intervals between taps are longer at the beginning of calling episodes. The voice consists of a squeal resembling that of a small mammal and a short "quap" or "quip" (Gabrielson and Lincoln 1959).
For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.
Morphologically American Three-toed Woodpecker is very similar to the Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus) but is smaller. They are sympatric and occur together ecologically. The barred pattern on the back distinguishes it from the Black-backed Woodpecker.
Western Hemisphere Range
American Three-toed Woodpeckers breed in the montane areas of western Montana. Winter range is more restricted to northwest Montana.
Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version)
Map Help and Descriptions
(direct evidence "B")
(indirect evidence "b")
No evidence of Breeding
(regular observations "W")
(at least one obs. "w")
(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)
Nesting habitat includes coniferous forests (with spruce, larch, or fir trees), or logged areas and swamps. A cavity nest is dug by both sexes and is placed 1.5 to 15 meters (5 to 50 feet) high in a stump or other dead or dying trees, often near water. The entrance is about 4 centimeters by 5 centimeters (1 3/4 by 2 inches), and the cavity is about 25 to 38 centimeters (10 to 15 inches) deep (Oatman 1985). The eggs lie on beds of chips within the nest and are ovate, pure white, and only moderately glossy (Gabrielson and Lincoln 1959).
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
- Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
How Associations Were Made
We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for
vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
- Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
- Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
- Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
- Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.
In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.
However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if
point observations were associated with that system.
Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.
The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.
If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.
Suggested Uses and Limitations
Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.
These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: mtnhp.org/requests
) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.
Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.
Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.
Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).
Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.
- Adams, R.A. 2003. Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. 289 p.
- Dobkin, D. S. 1992. Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34. Missoula, MT.
- Foresman, K.R. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 pp.
- Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998. Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates. Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT. 1302 p.
- Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32. 72 p.
- Maxell, B.A. 2000. Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species. Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1. Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana. 161 p.
- Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath. 2004. Amphibians and reptiles of Montana. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.
- Commonly Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Recently Disturbed or Modified
Wetland and Riparian Systems
Diet consists of primarily of larvae of bark beetles. Also, tree sap and insects.
In Glacier National Park, breeding density hit 13.5 birds per 100 acres in lodgepole pine during a pine beetle epidemic, probably due to the ability of birds to nest in lodgepole pine. In Oregon, home ranges for 3 radioed individuals were 751, 351, and 131 acres. Intraspecific home range overlap appeared limited (Goggans et al. 1989). Differences in diet between sexes noted.
Nest building was observed in June, with young out of the nest by early August (Davis 1961). Flying young were observed during late July near Fortine.
- Literature Cited AboveLegend: View Online Publication
- Davis, C.V. 1961. A distributional study of the birds of Montana. Ph.D. dissertation. Oregon State University, Corvallis. 462 pp.
- Gabrielson, I.N. and F.C. Lincoln. 1959. The Birds of Alaska. Stackpole, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Wildlife Management Institute, Washington, D.C.
- Goggans, R., R.D. Dixon and L.C. Seminara. 1989. Habitat use by three-toed and black-backed woodpeckers, Deschutes National Forest, Oregon. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Nongame Wildlife Program. USDA Deschutes National Forest Technical Report 87-3-02. 43 pp.
- Marks, J.S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Arrington, VA. Buteo Books. 659 pages.
- Additional ReferencesLegend: View Online Publication
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- American Gem Corporations. 1996. Application for an Operating Permit and Proposed Plan of Operations: Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine, Granite County, Montana. August 1996
- American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1998. Check-list of North American birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C. 829 p.
- Anonymous. 1992. Survey techniques to monitor three-toed and black-backed woodpeckers. Workshop on Monitoring Cavity-Nesters, February 24-25, 1992. Sponsored by The Wildlife Society, Oregon Chapter. 9 pp.
- Bock, C. E. and J. H. Bock. 1974. On the geographical ecology and evolution of the three-toed woodpeckers, Picoides tridactylus and P. arcticus. American Midland Naturalist 92(2):397-405.
- Bull, E. L., S. R. Peterson, and J. W. Thomas. 1986. Resource partitioning among woodpeckers in northeastern Oregon. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, OR. Research Note PNW-444. 19 pp.
- Casey, D. 2000. Partners in Flight Draft Bird Conservation Plan Montana. Version 1.0. 287 pp.
- Dresser, M.A. 2015. Demographic responses of woodpeckers in relation to a Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic in the Elkhorn Mountains of Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 71 p.
- Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp.
- Flath, Dennis and David Dickson. 1994 Systematic wildlife observations on the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area 1991-1993. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
- Goggans, Rebecca, Rita D. Dixon and L. Claire Seminara. 1987. Habitat use by three-toed and black-backed woodpeckers, Deschutes National Forest, Oregon. Final Report, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 50pp.
- Harris, M. A. 1982. Habitat use among woodpeckers in forest burns. M.S. thesis. University of Montana, Missoula. 62 pp.
- Henderson, S. 1997. Effects of fire on avian distributions and patterns of abundance over two vegetation types in southwest Montana : implications for managing fire for biodiversity. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 95 p.
- Hoffman, N.J. 1997. Distribution of Picoides woodpeckers in relation to habitat disturbance within the Yellowstone area. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 74 p.
- Hoffmann, R. S. 1960. Summer birds of the Little Belt Mountains, Montana. Occasional Papers of Montana State University No. 1, Missoula.
- Hutto, R. L., and J. S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service. U.S. Forest Service General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-32, Ogden, Utah.
- Hutto, Richard L. 1995. "Composition of Bird Communities Following Stand-Replacement Fires in Northern Rocky Mountain (U.S.A.) Conifer Forests". Conservation Biology. 9 (5): 1041-1058.
- Johnsgard, P.A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp.
- Lenard, S., J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar’s Montana bird distribution, 6th edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, MT. 144 pp.
- Leonard, D.L. Jr. 2001. American Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides dorsalis). Species Account Number 588. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database
- Maxell, B.A. 2016. Northern Goshawk surveys on the Beartooth, Ashland, and Sioux Districts of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest: 2012-2014. Montana Natural Heritage Program. Helena, MT. 114pp.
- Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map.
- Mosher, B.A. 2011. Avian community response to a mountain beetle epidemic. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 55 p.
- Oechsli, L.M. 2000. Ex-urban development in the Rocky Mountain West: consequences for native vegetation, wildlife diversity, and land-use planning in Big Sky, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 73 p.
- Ryser, F.A. 1985. Birds of the Great Basin: a natural history. University of Nevada Press, Reno. 640 pp.
- Short, L.L. 1974. Habits and interactions of North American Three-toed Woodpeckers (Picoides arcticus and Picoides tridactylus). American Museum Novitiates. 2547:1-42.
- Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp.
- Skaar, P. D., D. L. Flath, and L. S. Thompson. 1985. Montana bird distribution. Montana Academy of Sciences Monograph 3(44): ii-69.
- Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p.
- Sparks, J.R. 1997. Breeding bird communities in mature and old-growth Douglas-fir forests in southwest Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 68 p.
- Taylor, D.L. 1976. Forest fires and the tree-hole nesting cycle in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Pages 509-511 in Proceedings of the First Conference on Scientific Research in the National Parks. Vol. 1.
- Taylor, D.L. and W.J. Barmore, Jr. 1980. Post-fire succession of avifauna in coniferous forest of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Wyoming. In: Management of Western Forests and Grasslands for non-game birds. pp. 130-145. U.S. Forest Service General Technical Report INT-86.
- U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages.
- Westmoreland Resources, Inc., Hardin, MT., 1981, Upper Sarpy Basin Wildlife Study. In 1981 Wildlife Report. April 1982.
- Wickman, B. E. 1965. Black-backed three-toed woodpecker, Picoides arcticus, predation on Monochamus oregonensis. Pan-Pacific Entomologist 41(3)162-164.
- Additional Sources of Information Related to "Birds"