White-backed Woodpecker Reintroduction

To breed and reintroduce white-backed woodpeckers to supplement stocks in Sweden


The combination of forest fire suppression with an increasingly intense industrial forestry has resulted in a loss of old trees and a lack of seral stages dominated by deciduous trees such as birch, poplar and willow trees. The reproduction from seeds of poplars and willows is strongly promoted by fires and is now a rather rare event.


The change in age and species composition of the forests has pushed several hundred of fire-adapted and fire-requiring animal species, predominantly invertebrates, from being common to rare or even extinct in the country. A few of these species are strictly dependent on fire per se while the major part of this group depends on structures and processes that mainly fires provided in the past such as openness/sun exposure, dead wood, damaged trees with lowered vitality, fire scars and burnt ground.


One of the species suffering from this development is the white-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopus leucotos), which used to be confined to older deciduous-dominated forests, typically of fire origin, and which is now on the verge to extinction in Sweden. Only a 100 years ago this bird was common all over the country. Today the species is listed as Critically Endangered on the Swedish Red List. In 2010 the total population in Sweden was estimated to less than 20 white-backed woodpeckers, whereof nine descend from reintroduced birds.


To prevent local extinction of the white-backed woodpecker, a large-scale protection and restoration programme is carried out by Nordens Ark, regional conservation authorities, NGOs and the Swedish Environment Agency. One of the aims of the project is to preserve the largest possible areas of old mixed forest. The project has been relatively successful in this and more than 100 suitable biotopes, all larger than 100 ha, were protected during the 1990s.


A breeding centre has been established at Nordens Arks and the centre holds 18 pairs. Since 2006 nine large and independent aviaries have been built, which have improved breeding success. From 1996 to 2012, 71 chicks have hatched at Nordens Ark. In addition, Nordens Ark keeps hand-reared fledglings taken from the wild in Norway. The ex situ reared birds are released into the wild in restored areas in central Sweden. From 1996 to 2012, a total of 101 woodpeckers have been released into the wild. A pair bred at Nordens Ark in 2005 and released in Värmland successfully reared four fledged birds in 2007, the largest brood in Sweden for ten years.

The breeding and restocking project is part of the Swedish Action Plan for the conservation of the species, which also includes monitoring, habitat restoration and environmental improvements.


WAZA Conservation Project 06021 is implemented by Nordens Ark, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, several County Administrative Boards, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and forest companies. Nordens Ark's part of the project is funded by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Hasselblad Foundation and Fondation Segré.


Visit www.nordensark.se.


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  • White-backed Woodpecker Project
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    White-backed Woodpecker Conservation

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