Woodpeckers belong to the family Picidae. There are over 230 recognised species of woodpecker from 33 genera, to be found across the world, albeit many species are specific to relatively small, isolated areas. As a family they can be found in almost all regions of the globe apart from Antarctica, Greenland, Madagascar and Australasia. This profile is limited to the 3 species of Picus viridis otherwise known as the Eurasian Green Woodpecker and concentrates on the Picus viridis viridis subspecies, common throughout the United Kingdom, France, Scandinavia and western Russia.
Green Woodpecker, Eurasian Green Woodpecker
This is the largest woodpecker found within the United Kingdom and the second largest in Europe after the Black Woodpecker. Adult birds have predominantly green upperparts with white underparts, tinged with pale yellow. The rump is a yellow green and cheeks are a whitish hue similar to the bird’s underparts. Both sexes have a vivid red cap extending down towards the nape with a black patch surrounding the white eye. The malar area (moustache) is black with a red centre in the male and solid black in the female. The upperwing secondary flight feathers are green with the primary feathers and tail feathers being a dark grey with white barring. The tail itself is relatively short and is also used as an aid when the bird is upright clinging to a tree trunk. Underwing flight feathers are a pale grey with extensive white barring. The grey blue bill is long and chunky and the tongue up to 10 centimetres in length! The legs are a grey brown with two forward pointing toes and two angled backwards. Juvenile birds have white spotted, dull green upperparts, with a pale greyish white face and underparts streaked and spotted black. The forehead, crown and nape are red with grey streaks.
European Green Woodpecker perched on a branch
Unlike most species of woodpecker the European green rarely drums (the tap tap tapping noise often heard with other species) and is confined to loud vocalisations similar to a ‘kleu – kleu – kleu – kleu’ or a single ‘kyik’ when alarmed.
European Green Woodpecker Call
Mathias Götz, XC665473. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/665473.
European Green Woodpecker looking out of the nest in a tree
A diet of ants, ant eggs and larvae are the staple for this shy, resident breeder. Unlike most members of the Picidae family European green woodpeckers frequently forage and feed off the ground where they probe ants’ nests with their long sticky tongues.
European Green Woodpecker digging in ants nest
Picus viridis viridis is a widespread resident across southern Scandinavia eastwards into western Russia and the Balkans. It is common in parts of Scotland and throughout England, Wales and France.
Picus viridis karelini is similar in plumage but with less yellow and more grey colouration and is generally smaller in size than the nominate. It has a range from Italy through the southern Balkans into Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan then southeast into northwestern Iran and southwestern Turkmenistan.
Picus viridis innominatus is monotypic and is similar to the nominate with occasional subtle colour differences. It occupies a range along the Zagros Mountains which lie between northeastern Iraq and southwestern Iran.
Preferred habitats are broadleaved and mixed woodlands, farmland and other open areas such as heath with natural bushes and small coppices.
European Green Woodpecker in flight
Whilst easily recognisable with its green plumage and bright red crown in Britain, elsewhere in Europe it can be mistaken for the similar sized and coloured, Grey-headed woodpecker although the latter has a far thinner black moustache and lacks the vivid red crown, having instead a small red patch on the forehead. As its name implies it also has a mid grey head and its underparts are also tinged grey. The green woodpecker can often be seen feeding on grassy areas and cultivated lawns as it forages for ants. It is a solitary and shy bird albeit that its call can be extremely loud and shrill.
Close up of a European Green Woodpecker
A nesting hole, usually in a deciduous tree, is burrowed, predominantly by the male and can take up to a month to complete. One clutch of 4 – 6 white eggs, is laid annually between May to July and incubated for up to twenty days by both parents. Upon hatching the young emerge naked and helpless and are dependent on their parents for food and welfare (altricial). Fledging occurs an average of twenty two days after hatching. It is unusual for the green woodpecker to revisit the nest and use it subsequently although many species of bird will take up residence during the following breeding seasons to their own advantage.
European Green Woodpecker feeding chicks
Juvenile European Green Woodpecker
Life expectancy for the European green woodpecker is between five to ten years although ringed birds have been recorded as reaching fifteen years of age.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
There are eleven separate subspecies of the lesser spotted woodpecker. They are spread over a vast area from Europe, across central and southern Russia, into Northern China. This profile is limited to the recently reclassified subspecies of Dryobates minor comminutus (still known as Dendrocopos minor within some authorities) which is a resident of the United Kingdom. It is otherwise known as the British Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.