Great Spotted Woodpecker

Dendrocopos major

Britain’s commonest woodpecker stands out with its striking pied plumage and red vent.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Family:

Woodpeckers

Length:

22cm to 23cm

Wingspan:

34cm to 39cm

Weight:

85g to g

What does a Great Spotted Woodpecker look like?

The great spotted woodpecker is about the size of a blackbird and distinguishable by its pied black and white plumage and deep red vent area. It has a black crown and nape with two large, white, oval shoulder patches running along the tops of the wings. The wings are also black, with lines of white spots along the flight feathers. It has a longish tail with chequered black and white tail-sides. The underparts are white, with a deep red vent that sometimes extends up to the breast. The adult male has a crimson nape patch on the back of the head, which the female lacks. Juveniles are similar to adults but have a red crown.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Did you know?

Adults have a complete moult after the breeding season that lasts for 120 days.

What does a Great Spotted Woodpecker sound like?

The call is a short, sharp “kick!” When agitated will voice a rapid chattering.

Adult Call

B Whyte, XC560495. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/560495.

Drumming

Michał Jezierski, XC625182. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/625182.

What does a Great Spotted Woodpecker eat?

The great spotted woodpecker searches for insects and beetles in the gaps and cracks of tree bark. Its diet changes depending on the season. It will primarily feed on insects, specifically ants and the larvae of wood-boring beetles in spring and summer. In autumn and winter, it will mainly eat fruits, seeds and nuts. In winter, it may also visit bird tables. The great spotted woodpecker will also eat the seeds of pinecones and nuts. It will hammer these open using a tree as an anvil. They generally have a favoured tree that they repeatedly use for this task. Occasionally, the great spotted woodpecker will also raid smaller birds' nests to take eggs or nestlings.

Where can I see Great Spotted Woodpeckers?

Britain’s commonest woodpecker, it is widely distributed over the UK. Although a few pairs have begun nesting there in recent times, it is not traditionally found in Ireland. It is rare to see them in the far north of Scotland. They are most commonly seen in woodlands, particularly ones with mature broad-leaved trees, but will also frequent large parks and gardens.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Signs and spotting tips

The most obvious give away that a great spotted woodpecker is nearby is the repetitive drumming noise it makes as it taps away on hollow trees, which can be heard in woodlands and gardens from early march. It flies in deep undulations with a straight flight path. When wings are open, it will reveal white barring. Great spotted woodpeckers have favoured trees that they use as “anvils” to extract seeds from pinecones. Piles of empty cones can be found beneath these trees.

Did you know?

The sound of the great spotted woodpecker hammering away at tree trunk can sometimes be heard up to half a mile away.

How does a Great Spotted Woodpecker breed?

Male great spotted woodpeckers defend territories and use these to attract females. The male will court the female by putting on a flight display. Pairs are monogamous during the breeding season but will change partners once they have raised their young. The pair will excavate a nest in a tree by chiselling through the bark, the male doing most of the work. The female will lay a clutch of 4-6 glossy white eggs. The eggs are incubated for around 12 days before hatching.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Adult and Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker

How long do Great Spotted Woodpeckers live for?

Survival rates for the great spotted woodpecker are unknown, but it's estimated that the average lifespan is around 2 years. The maximum known age is 11 years.

Do Great Spotted Woodpeckers migrate?

The great spotted woodpecker is generally sedentary and can be seen year-round in Britain. It does tend to wander, and this has led to the recent colonisation of Ireland.

Threats and conservation

There are currently about 140,000 breeding pairs in the UK. It is evaluated as a species of least concern.

What is a group of Great Spotted Woodpeckers called?

There are no specific collective nouns for the Great Spotted Woodpecker. Instead, you can use general Woodpecker collective nouns such as:

  • a cord of woodpeckers
  • a descent of woodpeckers
  • a descension of woodpeckers
  • a drumming of woodpeckers
  • a gatling of woodpeckers

Similar birds to a Great Spotted Woodpecker

Other birds in the Woodpeckers family