Family Woodpeckers (Picidae)

Least Concern

Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus)


French: Pic tridactyle German: Dreizehenspecht Spanish: Pico tridáctilo

Picus tridactylus


, 1758,



Closely related to P. funebris and P. arcticus; possibly sister to former#R. In recent decades North American subspecies commonly treated as forming a separate species (P. dorsalis) on basis of genetic evidence#R, but morphological differences involve merely narrower postocular stripe (1) and smaller size (according to published measurements, no more than 1); all-white outer tail feathers shared by East Asian races albidior and crissoleucus, and notion of less white in forecrown not supported by specimen evidence. Distinctive form funebris, however, here allowed species status, as it differs from P. tridactylus in its all-blackish underparts, with white flecking, from breast to vent (plus black feet, blackish lower mandible and greatly reduced white barring on tail) vs white chin to mid-belly with bold blackish streaks on breast sides and flank-bars (plus greyish feet, pale horn lower mandible and boldly white-barred tail) (4); chin and throat plus pale lines on face tawny-whitish vs white (1); all-black crown (apart from frons) vs dense white streaking on female (2). Currently accepted races designated according to coloration, but variation is clinal, birds becoming darker and larger from N to S; comprehensive revision based on genetic and biogeographical grounds required. Birds from Sakhalin, described as race sakhalinensis, appear indistinguishable from nominate; named races tianschanicus (Tien Shan), kurodai (Korea) and inouyei (EC Hokkaido) barely differ from European alpinus, thus regarded as better merged with that taxon. Seven subspecies recognized.

What do (1) and (2) mean? Learn more about the scoring system.
Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. t. tridactylus (Linnaeus, 1758) – Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker – N Europe (also W Carpathians#R) E across S taiga to Altai Mts, N Mongolia, NE China, Ussuriland and Sakhalin.
  • P. t. crissoleucus (Reichenbach, 1854) – N taiga from Urals E to Sea of Okhotsk.
  • P. t. albidior Stejneger, 1888 – Kamchatka.
  • P. t. alpinus C. L. Brehm, 1831 – mountains of C, S & SE Europe (except W Carpathians), Tien Shan, NE Korea and N Japan (Hokkaido).
  • P. t. fasciatus S. F. Baird, 1870 – NW & C Alaska and NW Canada (E to NW & C Mackenzie and N Saskatchewan) and S to Oregon, N Idaho and W Montana.
  • P. t. bacatus Bangs, 1900 – N Manitoba and N Ontario E to N Quebec, Labrador and Newfoundland, S to Great Lakes, NE New York, N New Hampshire and NE Maine.
  • P. t. dorsalis S. F. Baird, 1858 – American Three-toed Woodpecker – Rocky Mts from Montana to EC Nevada, Arizona and NW New Mexico.
  • Descriptive notes

    20–24 cm (Eurasia), 21–23 cm (North America); male 65–74 g, female 54–66 g (tridactylus), 46–76 g (other Old World races), male 50... read more


    Single “kip”, in series when alarmed; short, rattling “kri-kri-kri-kri-kri... read more


    Mature boreal and montane mixed conifer forests. Spruce (Picea) and fir (Abies... read more

    Food and feeding

    Larvae and pupae of beetles living beneath bark form bulk of diet, and also important as nestling food; other insect larvae (hymenopterans... read more


    Laying from mid-May ( up to 2 weeks earlier in S Europe) to end Jun, occasionally early Jul. Courtship from second half of Mar; flutter-... read more


    Mountain populations (Alps, Tien Shan, Altai, Rocky Mts) largely resident, but often shift to lower... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Generally uncommon, and rather scarce in many parts of range, but perhaps locally more numerous. Can become common in some places... read more

    Recommended citation

    Winkler, H. & Christie, D.A. (2020). Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 25 January 2020).