By Ken Marsh
A spruce bark beetle infestation across Southcentral Alaska in recent years has proven beneficial for regional woodpeckers. From Petersville to Palmer, Anchorage and beyond, infested trees have provided a year-round banquet for these sharp-billed birds.
Downy and hairy woodpeckers are most common around Anchorage, but a hike yesterday was highlighted by an encounter with a female American three-toed woodpecker, Picoides fasciatus. (Note: Until recently, these birds were call northern three-toed woodpeckers.) At a glance, the main difference between sexes is that adult males sport a bright yellow cap.
Ranging from Alaska and the Yukon south to Oregon, northern Idaho and western Montana, the American three-toed woodpecker is a smaller species with adults ranging from 8 to 9 1/2 inches in length — roughly the size of an American robin. They generally find food in and immediately under a tree’s outer bark, rarely driving deeply into the wood. Note the small holes and disturbed bark in these pictures to see woodpeckers have fed on this bark beetle-infested tree frequently.
Yesterday’s woodpecker proved a cooperative photographic model, allowing me to approach closely with a 70-200mm Canon lens in so-so light. Seeing shed life and sound to an otherwise silent winter day in Southcentral Alaska.