Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Dendrocopos major
Population size
73.7-110.3 Mln
Life Span
5-11 years
g oz 
cm inch 
cm inch 

The Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) is a medium-sized woodpecker found across the Palearctic including parts of North Africa. These birds chisel into trees to find food or excavate nest holes, and also drum for contact and territorial advertisement; like other woodpeckers, they have anatomical adaptations to manage the physical stresses from the hammering action.
















Serial monogamy




Not a migrant


starts with


The upperparts of the Great spotted woodpecker are glossy blue-black, with white on the sides of the face and neck. Black lines run from the shoulder to the nape, the base of the bill, and about halfway across the breast. There is a large white shoulder patch and the flight feathers are barred with black and white, as is the tail. The underparts are white other than a scarlet lower belly and undertail. The bill is slate-black, the legs greenish-grey and the eye is deep red. Males have a crimson patch on the nape, which is absent from the otherwise similar females. Juvenile birds are less glossy than adults and have a brown tinge to their upperparts and dirty white underparts. Their markings are less well-defined than the adult's and the lower belly is pink rather than red. The crown of the juvenile's head is red, less extensively in young females than males.




Great spotted woodpeckers range across Eurasia from the British Isles to Japan, and in North Africa from Morocco to Tunisia; they are absent only from those areas too cold or dry to have suitable woodland habitat. Across most of their range, these birds are resident, but in the north, some will migrate when there are shortages of pine and spruce cones. Great spotted woodpeckers live in a wide variety of woodlands, broadleaf, coniferous or mixed, and in modified habitats like parks, gardens, and olive groves.

Great Spotted Woodpecker habitat map
Great Spotted Woodpecker habitat map
Great Spotted Woodpecker
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Habits and Lifestyle

Great spotted woodpeckers are generally solitary or may sometimes be spotted in pairs. They spend much of their time climbing trees in search of food or excavating nest holes and also drum for contact and territorial advertisement. They feed at all levels of a tree and will use an "anvil" on which to hammer hard items, particularly pine, spruce, and larch cones, but also fruit, nuts, and hard-bodied insects. Easily accessible items are picked off the tree surface or from fissures in the bark; larvae are extracted by chiseling holes up to 10 cm (3.9 in) deep and trapping the soft insect with the tongue, which can extend far beyond the bill, and is covered with bristles and sticky saliva to trap the prey. Great spotted woodpeckers roost at night, and sometimes during the day, in old nest cavities, excavated by other woodpeckers. They will occasionally make a new roosting hole or use an artificial site such as a nest box. These woodpeckers communicate with a sharp 'kik' call, which may be repeated as a wooden rattling 'krrarraarr' if the bird is disturbed. The courtship call, 'gwig', is mostly given in the display flight. Drumming on dead trees and branches, and sometimes suitable man-made structures serves to maintain contact between paired adults and to advertise ownership of the territory. Both sexes drum, although the male does so much more often, mostly from mid-January until the young are fledged.

Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Great spotted woodpeckers are omnivores. They feed on beetle larvae and also take many other invertebrates including adult beetles, ants, and spiders. Crustaceans, mollusks, and carrion may be eaten, and bird feeders are visited for seeds, suet, and domestic scraps. The nests of other cavity-nesting birds may be raided for their eggs and chicks. Great spotted woodpeckers also eat nuts, conifer seeds, buds, berries, and tree sap.

Mating Habits

mid-April to June
10-12 days
30-33 days
4-6 eggs

These woodpeckers are serially monogamous forming pairs during the breeding period, but often change partners before the next season. They are strongly territorial, typically occupying areas of about 5 ha (12 acres) year-round, which are defended mainly by male. Courtship behavior includes a fluttering flight display of a male with shallow wingbeats and a spread tail. He calls in flight and may land at a prospective nest-site. After the pair was formed both birds excavate a new hole at least 0.3 m (1 ft) above the ground and usually lower than 8 m (26 ft). The chosen site is normally a tree, alive or dead, occasionally a utility pole or nest box. Old holes are rarely re-used, although the same tree may be used for nesting for several years. The nest cavity is 25-35 cm (9.8-13.8 in) deep with an entrance hole 5-6 cm (2-2.4 in) wide. It is excavated by both sexes, but the male is doing most of the chiseling. As with other woodpeckers, the hole is unlined, although wood chips from the excavation may cover the base of the cavity. The typical clutch is 4-6 glossy white eggs. They are laid from mid-April to June, the later dates being for birds breeding in the north of the range or at altitude. The eggs are incubated by either adult during the day and by the male at night, for 10-12 days before hatching. Both birds brood and feed the altricial naked chicks and keep the nest clean. The young fledge in 20-23 days from hatching. Each parent then takes responsibility for feeding part of the brood for about 10 days, during which time they normally remain close to the nest tree. Great spotted woodpeckers produce only one brood per year and the young become reproductively mature at the age of one year.


Population threats

Great spotted woodpeckers are vulnerable to harsh winters and fragmentation of woodland which can cause local difficulties. The Canary Islands populations on Tenerife and on Gran Canaria face a potential threat from the exploitation of the local pine forests.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Great spotted woodpecker is 73,700,000-110,300,000 mature individuals. The European population consists of 12,900,000-19,300,000 pairs, which equates to 25,800,000-38,600,000 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List, and its numbers today are increasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Great spotted woodpecker spends most of its time moving on trees and has adaptations to this lifestyle. These include the zygodactyl arrangement of the foot, with two toes facing forward and two back, and the stiff tail feathers that are used as a prop against the trunk.
  • The hammering of woodpeckers when drumming or feeding creates great forces which are potentially damaging to the birds. In the Great spotted woodpecker and most of its relatives, specific skeletal adaptations and strengthening help to absorb the shock, and narrow nostrils protect against flying debris.
  • The woodpecker is able to extend its tongue to 40 mm (1.6 in); this is because the hyoid bone to which it is attached has long flexible "horns" that wind around the skull and can move forward when required.
  • Drumming of the Great spotted woodpecker is far-carrying and faster than for any other woodpecker in its range at around 10-16 strikes per second (typically in one-second bursts, although repeated frequently).
  • Great spotted woodpeckers obtain tree sap by drilling rings of holes around a tree trunk.


1. Great Spotted Woodpecker on Wikipedia -
2. Great Spotted Woodpecker on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -
4. Video creator -

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