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.
European Green Woodpecker
Green Woodpecker, Eurasian Green Woodpecker
30cm to 34cm
40cm to 42cm
180g to 220g
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.
Williamson’s sapsuckers are found in scattered breeding locations between southwestern Canada and parts of the southern and western United States. Winter territories extend into central Mexico. Unusually for a woodpecker, male and female Williamson’s sapsuckers are very different in appearance, with males a striking, bold black, white, yellow and red, and females mainly a cryptic mottled brown, with heavy light and dark barring.
Arizona woodpeckers are small woodpeckers, native to a small area centered on oak, sycamore and pine forests in the southwestern corner of Arizona and across the border in a strip that runs through western Mexico. Due to their remote nesting sites, there is little detailed information available about this species.
Similar in habits and appearance to the more widespread northern flicker, the gilded flicker is a colorful resident of the desert landscapes of the southwestern US and northwestern Mexico, where it excavates nest cavities high up in giant saguaro cacti.
Formerly known as cactus woodpeckers, ladder-backed woodpeckers are native to the desert landscapes of the southern United States and Mexico. They construct nest cavities in trees or cacti on arid scrublands, where they feed on insects and larvae living on the thorny vegetation.
Only found in mountainous pine forests of the western United States and in a small region of British Columbia, white-headed woodpeckers are one of North America’s least numerous woodpeckers. Habitat loss, due to logging and removal of snags from coniferous woodlands, is a potential threat to the stability of the species’ population.
The only North American woodpecker to excavate cavities in living, green wood, the red-cockaded woodpecker is also the most endangered on the continent, with a population of only around 15,000, a decline of more than 80 percent since the 1970s.
A small woodpecker native to oak woodlands of western California, the Nuttall’s woodpecker takes its name from the British naturalist Thomas Nuttall. Year-round residents of the extreme southwest corner of the United States, Nuttall’s woodpeckers excavate their own cavities, but do not reuse them in subsequent seasons, making them a key contributor to the survival of secondary-cavity nesters, such as wrens and titmice.
Black-backed woodpeckers are found in coniferous forests of southern Canada and parts of the northern United States. Their inky black plumage acts as effective camouflage against the charred trees of burned forests they inhabit after forest fires, where they thrive, feasting on the larvae of wood-boring beetles.
American Three-toed Woodpecker
One of two North American woodpecker species with three toes, the American three-toed woodpecker is widespread across much of Canada and also resident in the Rocky Mountain states of the US. Three-toed feet are a particularly useful adaptation that allow these woodpeckers to lean back further while clinging to a tree, and therefore deliver stronger, more powerful blows when striking the trunk.
Native to the western coastal regions of North America, red-breasted sapsuckers are unmistakable woodland birds with a crimson head and breast and bold white shoulder stripe. Perhaps what makes them more remarkable still are the neat rows of holes they drill into trunks of trees to access the sweet sap inside.
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is a controversial bird. Officially listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, they are generally believed to be extinct. Still, some birdwatchers cling to the hope that these majestic birds still haunt the forests of the American Southeast.
An active, noisy and conspicuous bird, the golden-fronted woodpecker adds a splash of color to the mesquite brushlands of southern Texas. Fruit, nuts (especially pecans) and seed make up a large portion of its diet, which also comprises insects and larvae, gleaned from the trunks of scrubland vegetation.
The Pileated Woodpecker is an impressive bird by all accounts. As the largest American representative of the Picidae family, they are twice the weight of any other surviving woodpecker in the United States.
Named for its characteristic call, or perhaps the flash of white rump and brightly colored wing feathers, the Northern Flicker is a large, handsome woodpecker that you’re more likely to see foraging on the ground than up in the trees.
The deserts of the Southwest are home to a unique and rowdy woodpecker species. Gila Woodpeckers are adapted to life in the arid zone, where the mighty Saguaro cactus replaces regular trees.
The Hairy Woodpecker is a bold and bright forest bird that occurs almost throughout North America. They are regular and welcome visitors to backyard bird feeders, although less common than the similar Downy Woodpecker.
Despite their name, the most conspicuous feature of red-bellied woodpeckers is the vibrant red coloring on the head, crown and nape of males of the species. The “red belly” is limited to a pinkish patch, barely visible unless at very close range. These highly patterned black-and-white woodpeckers are present across much of the eastern US, where they are both common and widespread.
A colorful member of the woodpecker family, the red-headed Woodpecker is widespread across the east-central United States. It is an occasional visitor to backyard feeders in winter, with its brilliant crimson head in deep contrast to its black and white body making it instantly recognizable.
Often dubbed the “clown-faced woodpecker”, acorn woodpeckers are distinctive red-crowned woodland birds found along the Pacific Coast of the United States. As well as their striking appearance, they are known for their intricate carpentry work to create “granaries” in trees for storing acorns.
Anything but a typical woodpecker, the Lewis’s woodpecker forages for flying insects like a flycatcher, has the shape and stature of a crow or jay, and the coloring of a hummingbird. They are not particularly skilled at excavating nest cavities and their drumming abilities are limited.
Known for their fondness of tree sap and ability to drill neat rows of sap wells into tree trunks, red-naped sapsuckers are the most common species of sapsucker in the western regions of North America, and favor aspen stands and ponderosa pine forests for both nesting and foraging.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker does not have the most flattering (or accurate) name. Widespread across the eastern half of North America, these birds are one of just four species in the Sphyrapicus genus.
America’s most common woodpecker is also its smallest. The boldly marked Downy Woodpecker is a familiar little bird of forests, woodlands, and backyards across the United States and Canada.
Once a common breeding bird in the UK, the Wryneck is now only a brief visitor en route between Northern European breeding grounds and African overwintering sites. What they lack in colour and song is made up by wonderfully textured plumage and some truly bizarre behaviours.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is the United Kingdom’s rarest woodpecker species, and its unexplained decline is of great concern. This elusive, sparrow-sized species presents a real birdwatching challenge.
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