Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus)

Threats

Black-backed woodpeckerFire suppression coupled with post-fire salvage logging has dramatically altered the diversity of habitats across Sierra Nevada forested landscapes and severely reduced the amount of early post-fire habitat available to fire-dependent species like the black-backed woodpecker.

Between 1940 and 1987, the amount of black-backed woodpecker habitat was reduced, as a result of fire suppression, to less than 19% of the natural, pre-fire-suppression level. This species has undergone declines over the past century due to fire suppression, harvest of burned forests, cutting of snags, and loss of mature and old-growth forests.

The greatest impact on the species comes from the logging of post-fire trees, or salvage logging. The black-backed woodpecker rarely uses even partially logged post-fire forests and it depends on fire-killed trees as habitat for its primary prey. Insects such as wood-boring beetles depend on these burned and dead trees for habitat and in turn they serve as the most significant food source for the black-backed woodpecker. Salvage logging taking place in the years following a fire greatly impacts the available habitat for the species and reduces its numbers in those areas of the Sierra.

Pesticide use in areas which have recently burned as an attempt to keep down the post-fire insect population can also have a negative impact on the species, both due to the decreased number of insects to prey upon and the lethal toxicity of pesticides on the birds.


Habitat

The habitat of black-backed woodpeckers is both early successional and old-growth forests comprised of both coniferous and mixed conifer species. They seem to prefer lodgepole pines and, less commonly, red firs, white pines, and mountain hemlocks. They concentrate in recently burned forests and remain for several years (3 to 5) before leaving due to food insect source decline. Their nests are typically found in large snags. The also tend to use edge habitats for nesting between coniferous forest and burns, bogs, meadows, or logged areas. Black-backed woodpeckers migrate long distances to forage on insects that attack burned trees and they reproduce at high levels when such recently burned forests are available. They are year-round residents in the Sierra Nevada and are typically found between 5,500 and 9,500 feet in elevation.

Recently, the Wild Nature Institute created this beautiful video highlighting the importance of burned forests for species like the black-backed woodpecker. Enjoy this excursion to the Lassen National Forest.

 


Conservation

The black-backed woodpecker is considered an indicator species for other snag-dependent species. Their core distribution is the central and northern Sierra and thus is extremely important for the entire California population. The black-backed woodpecker depends upon "snag forests" and management prescriptions in the Sierra that steer away from salvage logging and adopt a landscape or regional planning scale will help to ensure viability of the species. Land management that supports black-backed species viability in the long-term would include: reducing or eliminating salvage sales in prime woodpecker habitat; retaining all trees with potential nesting cavities; retention of all snags in logged areas; limiting insecticide use; and retaining a variety of dead and dying snags and downed trees for insect prey populations.


Status

October 4, 2012

Just released from the Institute for Bird Populations and California Partners in Flight: A conservation strategy for the black-backed woodpecker. Download it here.

Bond, M. L., R. B. Siegel and, D. L. Craig, editors. 2012. A Conservation Strategy for the
Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus) in California. Version 1.0. The Institute for Bird
Populations and California Partners in Flight. Point Reyes Station, California.

 

January 13, 2012

The California Department of Fish and Game released a notice today that the black-backed woodpecker qualifies as a candidate for listing as a threatened or endangered species. You can read the notice here.

In September, 2010, the John Muir Project and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to protect the black-backed woodpecker as a threatened or endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act. The protection of this rare woodpecker species is likely to have large-scale implications for post-fire logging policies in California. You can read the press release and download the petition, here.

Currently, the U.S. Forest Service lists the black-backed woodpecker as a Management Indicator Species (MIS) for National Forests in the Sierra Nevada for snags within burned forests. The Black-backed woodpecker is dependent upon post-fire, non-salvaged landscapes and therefore can be expected to be doing well in areas that have recently burned.


Scientific Research

Bond, M. L., R. B. Siegel and, D. L. Craig, editors. 2012. A Conservation Strategy for the
Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus) in California. Version 1.0. The Institute for Bird
Populations and California Partners in Flight. Point Reyes Station, California.
(4 MB PDF)

Hutto, R.L. 2006. Toward Meaningful Snag-Management Guidelines for Postfire Salvage Logging in North American Conifer Forests. Conservation Biology 20(4):984-993. (325KB PDF)

Laudenslayer Jr., William F.; Shea, Patrick J.; Valentine, Bradley E.; Weatherspoon, C. Phillip; Lisle, Thomas E.  2002.  Proceedings of the Symposium on the Ecology and Management of Dead Wood in Western Forests.  Reno, NV. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-181. Albany, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station; 949 p.

Saab, V.A., J. Dudley, and W.L. Thompson. 2004. Factors Influencing Occupancy of Nest Cavities in Recently Burned Forests. The Condor 106: 20-36. (183KB PDF)

Saab, V., W. Block, R. Russell, J. Lehmkuhl, L. Bate,and R. White. 2007. Birds and burns of the interior West: descriptions, habitats, and management in western forests. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-712. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 23 p. (1.5MB PDF)


Supporting Resources

Petition to List the Black-Backed Woodpecker Under the California Endangered Species Act. September, 2010. Submitted by the John Muir Project and the Center for Biological Diversity.(980 KB PDF)

California Department of Fish and Game Natural History Information --This California state website contains rather limited and old information but is a good basic background composite for the species. Choose from a drop-down list to select the animal you are interested in.

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