LIFE13 NAT/SI/000314

The Eurasian three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus)

The Biology of the Species

The male three-toed woodpecker is the only bird of the order Piciformes with a yellow patch on the top of the head. Both male and female birds are predominantly black and white in colouring. Their name derives from their distinctive feature – i.e. three toes on their feet (other Picoides have four toes). The size of the bird is 16.5 cm. This bird species is not timid.
During nesting in the spring the male and female birds stay together. After raising their young they return to the solitary way of life. The male bird excavates multiple holes into decaying trunks of coniferous trees. The female bird chooses one freshly excavated nesting cavity and lays 3 to 5 eggs. Each nest is used only once. After the tree-toed woodpecker female abandons the nest it is used by secondary cavity nesters, e.g. Eurasian pygmy owl, great tit, etc.


It inhabits mountain coniferous and mixed forests at an altitude of 800 m and above. It forages for food predominantly on freshly dead coniferous trees where there is still some bark left on the trunk with insects hidden underneath. It predominantly feeds on bark beetles and elm bark beetles. In the early spring when there is not enough food around the bird drills very small holes into the fresh tree bark to get to the sap.
During the nesting period the territory of the three-toed woodpecker covers around 60 hectares with 15 m3/ha (3% to 5% of the growing stock) or more dead coniferous trees.


The main threat to the three-toed woodpecker poses harvesting of dead and dying coniferous trees in the mountain forests causing a lower proportion thereof in the forests. In the Dinarides, the proportion of coniferous trees in the growing stock is declining due to dying fir trees or bark beetles multiplying on pine trees while the natural regeneration and recruitment of fir trees is severely limited thus endangering the existence and development of this tree species in the long run.


The three-toed woodpeckers are distributed across Dinarides, the Alps, Carpathian Mountains and other mountain forests and in the north of Europe as well. In Slovenia this species is an example of an ice age relict..

Conservation status of the species in the SPA Kočevsko: favourable (2009 report)

It is estimated that 30 to 40 pairs are nesting in the Kočevje region (2011 IBA revision) In the future the population is expected to fall due to a decline in proportion of fir trees in the growing stock.

Project activities

To preserve the three-toed woodpecker, a qualifying species of the Natura 2000 Kočevsko and to improve the conditions in its habitat, we will adjust the forest management practices in the Kočevje region forests and actively enforce the ‘management for the species’ principle. By establishing new ecocells, marking them in the environment and by increasing the forest reserve areas we will improve the ecological conditions of this species. By leaving larger amounts of dead and dying coniferous trees (mostly fir trees) and by cutting down a part of them after the nesting season is over predominantly in the higher lying forests (above 800m altitude) we will improve the feeding and thereby the living conditions of the species concerned.

Protection status

A protected species in Slovenia. On the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2011 IBA revision), the three-toed woodpecker is classified as near threatened (NT).