The Sierra Nevada is the most southerly portion of the range of the
Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus). Black-backed Woodpeckers
are most abundant in the Sierra (and elsewhere in their range) in stands
of recently fire-killed trees, where they forage heavily on wood-boring
beetle larvae that inhabit the dead trees. The species has an uncanny
ability to find and rapidly colonize patches of burned forest; then,
as beetle populations decline during the decade or so after a fire,
Black-backed Woodpeckers gradually abandon the area. IBP is partnering
with the US Forest Service in monitoring, research, and conservation
planning efforts to safeguard California's Black-backed Woodpecker population.
Monitoring: Black-backed Woodpecker Abundance and Distribution
on Sierra Nevada National Forests
Left: An adult male Black-backed Woodpecker (photo
copyrighted to C. Artuso).
Black-backed Woodpeckers’ strong affinity for stands of dead
trees make their population vulnerable to excessive post-fire salvage
logging and other management activities that might reduce the number
of recently killed trees across the Sierra landscape. Accordingly, the
USDA Forest Service has selected Black-backed Woodpecker as a Management
Indicator Species (MIS) for stands of burned forest. By tracking Black-backed
Woodpecker populations throughout the national forests of the Sierra
Nevada, the Forest Service hopes to ensure that its management activities
will preserve sufficient fire-killed trees to meet the habitat needs
of Black-backed Woodpecker and other wildlife species with an affinity
for recently burned forest.
Beginning in spring 2008 the Forest Service and IBP have partnered
to develop and implement a Black-backed Woodpecker monitoring program
for ten national forests in the greater Sierra Nevada region. The program
is providing Forest Service personnel with information needed to safeguard
the Sierra Nevada’s Black-backed Woodpecker population.
Research: Black-backed Woodpecker Home Range and Foraging
Ecology in California
Left: Black-backed Woodpecker excavating a nest cavity (photo
copyrighted to J. Leibrecht).
To complement our spatially extensive MIS monitoring (see #1 above),
in 2011 we initiated a two-year, intensive study of Black-backed Woodpecker
home range attributes and foraging ecology. Focusing on a small number
of fire areas (beginning with the Sugarloaf and Peterson Complex fires
on Lassen National Forest) we are using radio-telemetry to mark and
track individual birds throughout the breeding season. The study will
yield estimates of Black-backed Woodpecker home range size in burned
forest stands in California, an assessment of the degree of overlap
between adjacent home ranges, and a better understanding of habitat
needs – especially relating to the species’ selection of
foraging habitat within burned areas. Taken together, this information
will inform recommendations for snag retention and other measures to
make post-fire forest management compatible with thriving populations
of Black-backed Woodpeckers.
Below: Watch a short
video, produced by the US Forest Service, that highlights our Black-backed
Conservation Planning and Outreach: Developing a Conservation Strategy
for Black-backed Woodpecker in California
With funding from the US Forest Service, IBP coordinating the development
of a Conservation Strategy for Black-backed Woodpecker in California.
The strategy summarizes knowledge about Black-backed Woodpecker ecology
in California and elsewhere; identifies conservation opportunities,
threats, and research needs; and recommends specific actions for conserving
the species in California. The strategy is available here: PDF
Below: Listen to
Black-backed Woodpecker nestlings begging inside their nest in a burnt
Jeffrey Pine on Inyo National Forest. After about five seconds you can
hear one of their parents drum on a nearby tree. Video courtesy of Dayna
To view reports, maps, and technical materials
relating to this project, click here.