Thursday, February 9, 2012

American Three-Toed Woodpecker

This American Three-toed Woodpecker had eluded me the first five times I visited Low's Lake Road off of County Road 1 in Crow Wing County, MN this winter.  

American Three-toed Woodpecker

On each of my previous visits I found fresh evidence of this species' distinctive bark flecking feeding style.  Both  the Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers fleck the bark off of Tamarac and Spruce trees looking for insects living just underneath the bark. This feeding style leaves Tamaracs looking bright red and is an easy marker for tracking these species down.  Occasionally,  Hairy Woodpeckers will also on occasion fleck bark in this manner and prior today Hairys were the only Woodpeckers I had seen in this forest.  

On February 4th Herb Dingman  found both Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers  in this spot, so I decided to give it another shot, and I am glad I did.  Below is a short video of the Three-toed Woodpecker feeding.

If you decide to look for this bird - patience is a must:
At 12pm I parked my car on Low's Lake Road, a small dirt road with Spruce and Tamarac trees encroaching on both sides.  No sooner had the car door opened then I was serenaded by boreal species - Gray Jay, White-winged Crossbills and Redpolls.

Most of the evidence of the woodpeckers I sought could be seen on the county highway I had just turned off of so I proceeded to spend the next two hours slowly walking along the road where it traverses this majestic boggy forest.  Every once in a while I would stop to listen for the tell tale tapping and scraping sounds of a the woodpecker feeding.  Three times I heard these sounds in those first two hours and was only rewarded with Hairy Woodpeckers a far too common species to spend this much time pacing a highway on a February day in Minnesota.

At 2pm I leaned against my car and considered whether or not to continue my search. - That is when the wind died down enough for me to hear a faint tap tap scratch, and sure enough this bird was feeding only thirty feet from my car probably the entire time I walked up and down the highway.
View Crow Wing Three-toed Woodpecker in a larger map

Lastly I have always been curious about the name - Three-toed Woodpecker - so I decided to do some research and it turns out it is quite an apt name.  It seems most Woodpeckers have four "toes" with the inner most rear toe (hallux) much reduced.  Two toes pointing forward and two oriented back, but in "Three-toed Woodpeckers" (American Three-toed, and Black-backed) the hallux has been lost altogether (Woodpeckers of Europe

a. four-toed woodpecker foot with reduced hallux.
b. three-toed woodpecker foot with hallux missing entirely.
(National Park Service)


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