Picoides tridactylusEurasian three-toed woodpecker(Also: three-toed woodpecker)

Geographic Range

Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers are non-migratory birds that are native to boreal and alpine coniferous forests throughout the Palearctic zone (Wesolwski et al. 2005). The northern part of their range starts at tree line and extends southward to southern Scandinavia, Latvia, the Moscow region, the Tomsk region of western Siberia, northern Mongolia, Manchuria, northeast Korea and Sakhalin. There are isolated populations found in the Alps, Carpathian, and Balkans mountains, northern Greece and Bulgaria, Kamchatka, Hokkaido in Japan and the western mountains of China (Short and Sandström 1982 and Winkler et al. 1995). (Short and Sandström, 1982; Wesolwski, et al., 2005; Winkler, et al., 1995)


Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers are almost exclusively found in coniferous forest; in particular, they are specialists in spruce and snags (Roberge 2008, Välimäki et al. 2008 and Stachura-Skierczyńska 2009). In Siberia they can be found in the tamaracks of the taiga (Winkler et al. 1995). There have been reports of three-toed woodpeckers in deciduous forests, especially in eastern Europe where they can be found in wet ash-alder habitat and in oak-hornbean stands (Bock and Bock 1974 and Winkler et al. 1995). Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers have a strong association of being found where there has been either fire or wind disturbances. (Stachura-Skierczyńska 2009). (Bock and Bock, 1974; Roberge, et al., 2008; Stachura-Skierczyńska, et al., 2009; Välimäki, et al., 2008; Winkler, et al., 1995)

Physical Description

Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers are small birds with the males weighing 65 to 75g and the females weighing 54 to 66 g (Short 1982 and Pechacek 2006). Overall these birds are black and white and have three toes per foot with the male having a yellow crown (Short 1982; Winkler et al. 1995). Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers have black foreheads, lores, ear coverts and moustachial stripes. The chin, throat, and the supercilium from the rear to the top of the eye are white. The lateral crown stripe is predominantly black with white speckling. The breast is mostly white or creamy-buff, with black streaks on the side and barred black on the flanks and undertail-coverts. Their mantle is black except for a white central patch. The scapulars are black with innermost part being white. The back and rump are white with black bars found at the margins. The uppertail-coverts are brownish-black with the upperwing being all black. The flight feathers are also black with a white barred pattern. The tail is black with three white outer pairs of feathers that are barred black at the tips. They have brownish-red to deep red eyes and gray feet and legs. The bill is described as either slaty or gray-black and becomes paler towards the base. (Bock and Bock, 1974; Pechacek, 2006; Short and Sandström, 1982; Winkler, et al., 1995)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    54 to 75 g
    1.90 to 2.64 oz
  • Range wingspan
    114 to 132 mm
    4.49 to 5.20 in


Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers are a socially monogamous species that displays mate-guarding. However, there have been a small number of instances where polygyny, polyandry and extra-pair paternity have been observed (Välimäki et al. 2008; and Li et al. 2009). Courtship takes place during late March through April, when females lay their eggs (Winkler et al. 1995). (Li, et al., 2009; Välimäki, et al., 2008; Winkler, et al., 1995)

Females lay their eggs in holes that both the female and male excavate inside dead trees. They use the same nest over a long period of time (Li et al. 2009; and Winkler et al. 1995). Chicks hatch between 11 and 14 days after incubation (Winkler et al. 1995). There can be high breeding density in a given area post fire (Li et al. 2009). During the breeding season, Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers have a single clutch that averages 3.4 eggs and has a fledging rate of 40% (Pechacek 2006). (Li, et al., 2009; Välimäki, et al., 2008; Winkler, et al., 1995)

  • Breeding interval
    Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers breed once a year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from March to May.
  • Range eggs per season
    2 to 5
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    11 to 14 days
  • Average fledging age
    20 days
  • Average time to independence
    82 days

Both the male and female show a high degree of care for their young (Li et al. 2009). At night only the male will incubate the eggs and care for the young. Both parents will stay with their young up to 40 days after they have fledged (Pechacek 2006). (Pechacek, 2006)

  • Parental Investment
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


No information about longevity is available from the literature


Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers are arboreal and almost never spend time on the ground (Winkler et al. 1995). While foraging, they move backwards down a tree. Males forage on the lower parts of the tree while females can be found higher up the tree. They lower their bills when they want to show a submissive display. When they are aggressive, they raise their bill and crest and swing their head. This aggressive display is usually accompanied by a “wicka” call. In aggressive encounters they spread their wings and tail feathers and preform an aerial display (Short and Sandström 1982). Most of their interspecific interactions are between other food competitors (Short and Sandström 1982; and Winkler et al. 1995). (Short and Sandström, 1982; Winkler, et al., 1995)

Home Range

The average home range of Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers during nesting season is 59.6 ha (Pechacek and d'Oleire-Oltmanns 2004). The size of their territory can vary depending on the availability of resources. (Pechacek and d'Oleire-Oltmanns, 2004)

Communication and Perception

Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers use drumming as a form of communication (Short 1982 and Winkler et al. 1995). Paired birds will slow down the beats per drumming burst when they want to give a location or breeding signal. They will speed up their drumming when it is used in an aggressive or territorial manner. Males average 19.7 beats per drumming whereas females average 21.2 beats per drumming. A drumming burst lasts on average 1.29 seconds. Their call note is described as “kip” “gug”,”gig” or “kjub," lasts for an average of 0.048 seconds, and has a pitch of 1.9 kilohertz (Short 1982 and Winkler et al. 1995). This call note is used for location and low level aggression. When there is danger or a disturbance to their nest, they use a scolding call, which is a fast series of call notes. These birds use the rattle call: a series of “kri-kri-kri,” when they are threatened or for territorial defense. The call uses 6 to 26 notes that average 1.1 seconds with 10.7 to 11.9 notes per seconds. When locked in an aggressive encounter these birds swing their head and give a series of “twuit” notes. Paired birds will use “dwach” during intimate contacts (Winkler et al. 1995). (Short and Sandström, 1982; Winkler, et al., 1995)

Food Habits

Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers are insectivores that mainly feed on the larvae of bark beetles (Coleoptera: Scolytidae) but also eat other insects found in dying and dead trees (Butler 2004). While on the nest, their diet consists mostly of spiders and longhorn beetle larvae that they can easily gather from around the nest (Pechacek and Kristin 2004). They use a combination of tapping and pecking on the bark of tree to gain access to their food source (Pechacek 2006). During the breeding season they will, on rare occasions, lick sap from tree trunks (Butler 2004; and Pechacek 2006). (Bütler, et al., 2004; Pechacek and Kristin, 2004; Pechacek, 2006)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • sap or other plant fluids


No predators are reported in the literature

Ecosystem Roles

Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers are a keystone species in the ecosystems they inhabit. They create tree-cavities which serve many other species as nesting or roosting hole (Bütler et al. 2004). Since they are so strongly tied to dead and dying trees, they are considered bio-indicators used to assess the health of a forest (Pechacek 2004). (Bütler, et al., 2004; Pechacek, 2006)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers are predators of insects that are prone to outbreaks which include Ips nitidus and Polygraphus poligraphus and can be used as natural agents against insect plagues (Butler et al. 2004). They can be an important economic aspect of forest management since they control and limit bark beetle populations under epidemic levels (Stachura-Skierczyńska et al. 2009). (Bütler, et al., 2004; Stachura-Skierczyńska, et al., 2009)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers on humans

Conservation Status

Eurasian three-toed woodpeckers are listed as least concern and stable (IUCN 2012). Individual populations face threats from large-scale commercial logging, fire suppression, and removal of dead or insect-infested trees.


Quentin Sprengelmeyer (author), Northern Michigan University, Alec Lindsay (editor), Northern Michigan University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

keystone species

a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


Referring to a mating system in which a female mates with several males during one breeding season (compare polygynous).


having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


uses sight to communicate


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Li, M., K. Välimäki, M. Piha, T. Pakkala, J. Merilä. 2009. Extrapair Paternity and Maternity in the Three-Toed Woodpecker, Picoides tridactylus: Insights from Microsatellite-Based Parentage Analysis. PLoS ONE, 4: e7895. Accessed January 19, 2013 at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0007895.

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