Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Dryobates minor

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.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Dryobates minor

Other names:

British Lesser Spotted Woodpecker



Conservation status:




14cm to 15cm


25cm to 27cm


17g to 25g

What does a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker look like?

This is both the rarest and smallest of the UK’s resident woodpeckers, being approximately the same size as a tree sparrow. The adult male is recognisable by his prominent crimson red cap edged in black and black coloured upper parts with broad white barring. The face, forehead, lores (the area between the eyes and the nostrils) throat and underparts are an off white whereas the cheeks are black. Flanks are white streaked thinly with black and flight feathers are black with white barring. Wing coverts are black with white spotted tips. The bill, which is short and powerful, is grey, as are the legs. The feet are unusual in that the toes are arranged so that two point forwards and two point directly to the rear. This is to allow the bird to ‘perch’ on a vertical tree trunk whilst foraging for food from underneath the tree bark. Irides are a chestnut to dark brown. The adult female is similar to the male in shape and size but lacks the distinctive red crown. Juveniles are similar to adult birds although duller overall with less red on the crown of juvenile males.

Close up of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Close up of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

What does a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker sound like?

Although generally a quiet bird, both males and females will vocalise, particularly during the springtime when a staccato and repetitive ‘pee – pee – pee’ sound is heard. Alternatively, a weaker ‘chig’ sound is uttered, often from high up in the tree tops. Whilst they can also be heard clearly tapping (drumming) on trees with their bills they are not as loud as the other two, more common resident species of Woodpecker, found within the British Isles.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Song / Call

Paul Bourdin, XC661214. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/661214.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in flight

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in flight

What does a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker eat?

Lesser spotted woodpeckers have bills designed to easily extract insects and insect larvae from beneath tree bark which tend to form the basis of their diet. They will also forage for spiders, caterpillars, grubs and beetles from plant stems and bushes and very occasionally take berries or fruits.

Female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker


Confined mainly to England from the Midlands south covering most counties throughout the southeast and southwest and also South Wales. There are also limited numbers in isolated pockets in the north of England, specifically Lancashire and Yorkshire. The British lesser spotted woodpecker is a rare bird in severe decline and as such is categorised as Red within the UK Birds of Conservation Concern 4 (BoCC4).

Portrait of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Portrait of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Signs and Spotting tips

In the main these are solitary and sedentary birds which spend much of their lives high in the tree canopy and are therefore difficult to spot. They prefer unmanaged open woodland of deciduous trees where they can find dead and rotting trunks and branches although they will also frequent orchards, parks and gardens, where they will sometimes feed from bird tables. The patternation and barring, particularly on their backs is not as crisp as other woodpeckers giving a slightly ‘blurred’ image.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker hanging on a branch

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker hanging on a branch


Between late April through to June one clutch of between 4 – 6 white coloured eggs are produced annually and incubated for up to twelve days by both parents. Fledging normally occurs some three weeks later and parental care will often continue for a further one to two weeks. The nests, which are unlined apart from excavated wood dust, are constructed by both adult birds by digging out a hollow in a rotting or decaying branch high above the ground.

Female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at nest hole with young

Female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at nest hole with young

How long do Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers live for?

The life expectancy of adult lesser spotted woodpeckers is between five to ten years.

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Other birds in the Woodpeckers family

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