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Three-Toed Woodpecker

The three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus) is a character species in subalpine spruce forests. It is about the size of a blackbird and has black-white patterned feathing. Its wings are homogenously dark. The crown of the males is bright yellow, while the females have a silver-grey crest.  

A specific feature of this woodpecker species is that it only has three toes, two of which face forward, and the third backward.

The woodpecker’s habitats are subalpine coniferous and mixed forests with old trees and deadwood. The three-toed woodpecker lives from eating larvae and cocoons, in particular of the bark beetle. For the three-toed woodpecker to find enough to eat, there must be many dying, ill and dead trees in its habitat. A study in the Swiss Alps showed that a threshold level of about 20m³ (corresponds to the filling volume of two children’s swimming pools with a diameter of 3.6m) of standing deadwood per hectare (approx. 1.4 football fields) is required for this species’ survival (Bütler and Schlaepfer 2004).

To get to his food the three-toed woodpecker removes bark with its bill. Often it works on medium or lower levels of the trunk on rotting tree trunks or wood lying on the ground. From spring to September the three-toed woodpecker “torpedos” spruce trees, this means it pecks rows of holes into the trees’ bark to get to the sap.


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