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The Institute for Bird Populations
© 2002

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 Woodpecker research.

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 Mauer.

To view reports, maps, and technical materials relating to this project, click here.

For more information, please contact Rodney Siegel.