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White-backed woodpecker

At the start of last century, white-backed woodpeckers could be found in many parts of Sweden. But by 20 years ago there were only around 20 pairs, and their numbers have continued to fall.

White-backed woodpeckers have a very particular diet: the larvae of wood-dwelling insects. Each year they hack out a new nesting hole, often high in a rotting aspen, alder or birch. The white-backed woodpecker marks its territory by drumming, for example on dead branches. Different species of woodpecker have different signals, and they can be heard a long way off. 

At the start of last century, white-backed woodpeckers could be found in many parts of Sweden. But by 20 years ago there were only around 20 pairs, and their numbers have continued to fall. In recent years there have been at most a few breeding pairs in the country. According to the Swedish Red List, the white-backed woodpecker is critically endangered. The species is not endangered globally. In the Baltic countries and Poland there are estimated to be 3,700 pairs.

The white-backed woodpecker is reliant on deciduous woodland with lots of old, decaying trees that are home to plenty of insects. Forest of this type has become increasingly rare as a result of modern forestry methods. There are at least 200 threatened species of plants and animals that are dependent on the same type of forest environment as the white-backed woodpecker. This woodpecker can therefore be seen as a symbol for a whole group of species that rely on old deciduous woodland. Species like this are knows as umbrella species. By saving one umbrella species we can beneÿt many other species at the same time. 

The species’ rapid decline is due mainly to the changing forest landscape. Today’s clearance methods leave too few dead and dying trees, which the woodpecker relies on for foraging.

In 1990 the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation set up a project to save the white-backed woodpecker in Sweden.  

Source: Nordens Ark

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