Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2015-25

Common name:

Black-backed Woodpecker

Scientific name: Picoides arcticus
Date: August 6, 2014
Time: Late afternoon, maybe around 4PM
Length of time observed: Several minutes, possibly five or more
Number: One
Age: Unknown adult probably
Sex: Female
Location: Next to Moose Ponds, a small pond beside the road, fitted up with a wheelchair accessible trail around the lake, and a toilet by the parking lot. [S. of Manila ~ mile marker 9.5]
County: Daggett
Latilong: I do not know. Some other map might give this, but I do not have GPS.
Elevation: About 8000 feet
Distance to bird: About eight feet away, and below eye-level as she was in the bottom of a bush.
Optical equipment: My eyes, and binoculars: Pentax 8x24 6.2degree
Weather: Partly cloudy to clear
Light Conditions: Good to excellent, no sun-glare in my eyes or other confounding factors.
Description:        Size of bird: About Starling sized or a bit larger
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Very woodpecker shaped. I might have thought it was a starling, until she latched onto the vertical side of one of the bush pieces. Only woodpeckers behave like that.
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Solidly black back. Black head with no yellow or other color. The belly was a dull white, and I did see the "densely barred flanks" described in the field guide, as well as the thin short white lines on the primaries
(Description:)            Bill Type: Medium long woodpecker bill....that is to say, very long in any non-woodpecker species.
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
Back very black, including head. White stripes very visible on sides. As the bird was below me it was not backlit by the sky. As it was conveniently on my side of the bush I could see it fairly easily. It had a white area that wrapped partly around its neck from the front, and another white line above that. It had white on the sides of its tail as it flew. It clung to the bush trunk in proper woodpecker fashion. While I had never seen this species before, I have looked through the field guide many times over my probably fifty years of bird-watching, and as soon as I realized that the rustling in the bush was not a starling or a robin, my mind clicked and shouted, "Black-Backed Woodpecker!!!" It pounded on the bush trunk a bit and prodded around looking for something interesting. It almost seemed to be making sure I got a really good look at the side pattern, and the plain blackness of the back. After several minutes she decided to fly away,!
and did so, exhibiting the usual looping woodpecker flight and the white feathers at the edges of the tail, and later as we were leaving the Moose Ponds I saw the Black-Backed Woodpecker again...after I had had a chance to check the field guide....and it calmly flew across the road and latched onto a tree. To the best of my knowledge there is NO other bird that this could have been.
Song or call & method of delivery: It may have made some vocalization, but I was more aware of the noises of its rustling in he leaves and toping on the wood.
Behavior: Very woodpecker. Clinging to vertical surfaces like they are more comfortable than any horizontal surface could possibly be. Probing for insects in bark and in leaf litter. Flying in a looping fashion,
Habitat: Right around the pond there are some reeds and willow scrub. This pond is right next to Utah Highway 44 between Flaming Gorge Dam and Manila. Around the pond is a pine forest. Mostly Lodgepole Pines, with some Ponderosas and probably several others. There are also Aspens in the area. On this area of the mountains we have had a lot of Beetle-killed trees, as well as some fires, large and small through the years.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
This was NOT either Downy or Hairy because of the BLACK back, the size and the bill differences. This was NOT a Lewis's because of the white on the sides and belly, and the absolute lack of any pink on the bird. Similar arguments arise in regard to Sapsuckers or Flickers. I briefly entertained the thought that it might be a Three-Toed Woodpecker with a melanistic back.....but that seemed more convoluted than believing it to be a normal plumage in a place with so few birdwatchers that no one has noticed that it comes into the Uinta Mountains instead of stopping in the Wyoming Range.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
Flickers, Downy, and Hairy come to suet in my yard. I have seen Lewis's woodpecker often enough at the Ouray Refuge to feel familiar with the strangely dusky quality of its black plumage...besides, the shape seems different for Lewis's.
References consulted: The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America first edition, and the Golden Field Guide Birds of North America
Description from: Notes made later
Observer: Diana Mixa
Observer's address: 648 West 350 South Vernal, Utah
Observer's e-mail address: **
Other observers who independently identified this bird: None. Sorry.
Date prepared: October 3, 2015
Additional material:  
Additional_Comments: The note I wrote in my diary of that particular trip says as follows:
Woodpecker: black back bits of white stripes on sides, white on sides of tail in flight....and the only match I find is "Black-Backed" Woodpecker (which the maps show as not coming this far south).