One of the UK’s most eye-catching birds, the Great Spotted Woodpecker is a delight to watch as they deftly cling to tree trunks while foraging. They are the most common of three Woodpecker species on the British Isles and a regular sighting in many back gardens.
The Great Spotted Woodpecker is a striking bird that is mostly black above and white below. Each wing has a prominent white bar and several white spots. They have a black cap, and black stripes on the side of the head create white cheek and neck patches.
These boldly marked birds also have a patch of red feathers under their tail in addition to their pied plumage. They have a straight black bill and robust legs and feet with two toes facing forward and two facing back.
Males and females look very similar, although they are easily distinguished if the back of the head is visible. Females have all-black crowns, whereas males have a small but distinct red spot.
Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers are also distinguished from adults by their head plumage. In young birds, the crown is red from the forehead to the back of the head.
The Great Spotted Woodpecker is most easily confused with the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a much smaller and rarer species with similar plumage. They may also resemble the much larger Green Woodpecker in poor light, although that species does not have black and white plumage.
Great Spotted Woodpecker Male
Great Spotted Woodpecker Female
Great Spotted Woodpeckers are medium-sized birds with a similar length and weight to the Starling.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers have a total body length of 20 to 24 centimetres.
The Western European subspecies have a body weight of 68 to 93 grams. Males are slightly heavier on average.
These birds have a wingspan of 34 to 39 centimetres and an average wing length of just over 13 centimetres.
Great Spotted Woodpecker in-flight through the forest
The Great Spotted Woodpecker produces a high-pitched ‘Kik’ or ‘Ki-ki-ki’ call and a drawn-out churring call. One of their most distinctive sounds is made by tapping on hollow resonant wood, rather than calling. Males, and occasionally females, also produce a rapid rolling drumming sound that lasts about two seconds.
Great Spotted Woodpecker calling from the top of a tree stump
Great Spotted Woodpeckers have a varied diet that includes woodboring grubs, beetles, ants, and many other invertebrates. They also feed on the eggs and chicks of other birds, frequently drilling into nest boxes to access the occupants.
These birds also eat plant material like nuts, acorns, fruits, berries, sap, and buds. They often visit bird feeders where they prefer suet and peanuts.
Great Spotted Woodpecker chicks eat insects, fruits, and berries provided by both parents. The young leave the nest after about three weeks but are fed for another week or so.
Great Spotted Woodpecker female feeding its young
Great Spotted Woodpeckers inhabit a variety of well-wooded habitats, including woodlands, coniferous forests, parks, and gardens. They avoid open, treeless habitats but will make use of smaller copses and avenues.
The Great Spotted Woodpecker is widespread in the United Kingdom, although absent from much of northern Scotland. Low numbers occur along the east coast of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
They also have an extensive range in the Northern Hemisphere, occurring throughout most of Europe and across Asia to Siberia, Japan, and South East Asia. They are also present in the North African countries of Morrocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers are primarily arboreal, spending most of their time in trees. They are most often seen clambering about on tree trunks, although they often visit bird tables and occasionally descend to feed on the ground.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers are increasingly common in the United Kingdom. Their population has increased four-fold since the 1960s, and there are now an estimated 130,000 resident breeding pairs.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers are reasonably common in wooded areas and even established gardens across most of the United Kingdom. A visit to mature broad-leaved woodland provides an excellent chance to see these striking birds. They may be located by their loud drumming and calls, although you may hear their soft tapping in settled weather.
Great Spotted Woodpecker clambering on a tree trunk
Great Spotted Woodpeckers can live for up to 11 years in the wild, although their average lifespan is much shorter.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers are most vulnerable to the Sparrowhawk and the Goshawk. However, sick or injured individuals could fall prey to a variety of other birds of prey and mammalian carnivores, including domestic cats.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers are protected in the UK by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers are not endangered. In fact, these birds are increasing in number and are classified as a ‘Least Concern’ species.
Great Spotted Woodpecker drinking from a watering hole in the forest
Great Spotted Woodpeckers nest in holes in live or dead trees. The male usually excavates the nest hole anywhere up to 26 meters above the ground, although usually much lower. He will excavate a new nest each year, although some pairs take the easier route and use nest boxes.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers first breed when they are a year old. Pairs form in the winter but do not lay their eggs until spring or early summer. They produce a single brood each year.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers lay four to eight glossy white eggs, each measuring approximately 26 millimetres long and 20 millimetres wide.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers generally breed with a new partner each year. They are usually monogamous in the nesting season, although females may mate with more than one male.
Great Spotted Woodpecker male at the nest with its young
Great Spotted Woodpeckers are strongly territorial and defend territories of several hectares. Keeping rival males out of their territory may require aggression when loud drumming fails to drive the message home. They can also be quite competitive around food sources and may quarrel among themselves or with other bird species.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers roost in holes excavated by themselves or other Woodpeckers. They may also sleep in nest boxes.
Great Spotted Woodpecker resting on top of the stump of a tree
Great Spotted Woodpeckers usually remain within the same area throughout the year. Northern European birds occasionally migrate when food sources are scarce, and large numbers may visit the United Kingdom in some years.
The Great Spotted Woodpecker is native to the United Kingdom. They disappeared from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland centuries ago but have returned without assistance and are making a steady recovery there.
Great Spotted Woodpecker in-flight
The Great Spotted Woodpecker is a beautiful species that many UK birdwatchers would love to see in their own gardens. Fortunately, they have become reasonably common garden birds and can be attracted by providing fat balls and suet, peanuts, and sunflower seeds. They will also forage naturally from old dead wood and trees and appreciate a shallow bird bath for drinking and bathing.
20cm to 24cm
34cm to 39cm
68g to 93g
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.
European Green Woodpecker
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.
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