European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)

European Green Woodpecker

[order] PICIFORMES | [family] Picidae | [latin] Picus viridis | [UK] European Green Woodpecker | [FR] Pic vert | [DE] Grunspecht | [ES] Pito Real | [NL] Groene Specht


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Picus viridis EU w
Picus viridis innominatus sw Iran
Picus viridis karelini se Europe to sw Turkmenistan
Picus viridis sharpei Iberian Pen.
Picus viridis viridis n and c Europe

Physical charateristics

The Green Woodpecker has a green mantle and wings, yellow-green rump, and whitish underparts. The crown and nape are red, with black marking around the eye, and black moustache. The tail is blackish with green barring. The male’s moustache has a red centre, while the female’s is all black. The juveniles are spotted with black on the underparts and head, and spotted with white on the mantle and coverts. As with other woodpeckers, the stiff tail feathers are used as a prop when it is clinging to a tree, and its toes are specially arranged with two pointing forwards and two backwards.

wingspan min.: 45 cm wingspan max.: 51 cm
size min.: 30 cm size max.: 36 cm
incubation min.: 17 days incubation max.: 19 days
fledging min.: 23 days fledging max.: 19 days
broods: 27   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 5  


Eurasia : West


Resident in temperate and also marginally in milder boreal and Mediterranean zones of west Palearctic in oceanic as well as continental climates. In most regions, more of a lowland species than Grey-headed Woodpecker. Also, apparently, since widespread forest clearance, desertion of unbroken close forests has been taken somewhat further than by Grey-headed Woodpecker, especially in west of range where park-land, orchards, groves, gardens, vineyards, heathland with scattered trees, hedgerow trees, and spinneys, and even treeless dry dwarf scrub and cliff-tops are as much favoured as more traditional open or broken broad-leaved mixed forest with grassy fringes or clearings.


The five or six white eggs are laid at the bottom of the shaft, which is directed downwards from inside the entrance hole. Male and female both contribute to nest construction which takes about 2 weeks, usually by creating a hole in a rotting tree trunk. The incubation period is about 18 days. There is only one brood, with the young spending about three weeks in the nest cavity; the adults are often very vocal at this time. The young are fed by regurgitation. The young leave the nest site after a further 18 to 20 days.

Feeding habits

When feeding, Green Woodpeckers flick out their long, worm-like rod tongues to capture food items which stick to the tip. It is the tongue which collects food for the bird, not the large, pointed triangular bill. The tongue is attached to the curved horns of the hyoid bone, situated in the neck, by tough muscular strands; when not being used, it remains coiled up in the mouth cavity, round and like a thin eel. Glands are present on the tongue which produce a highly sticky saliva, while at the end there is a collection of back-facing barbs; thus, ants get trapped and held at the tip. When an ants’ nest is opened, larvae, pupae, and eggs are all eaten as well as active adults. At a distance, it is not easy to see the rapidly moving tongue as it is extended, even when powerful binoculars are used; however, much less effort is required to spot tongue movements by well-grown young as they peer from their nest-hole, anticipating the return of a parent with food.

As well as ants, Green Woodpeckers feed on bark insects; damaged or diseased bark is struck and opened with blows from the sturdy, pointed beak. Insect pupae, larvae and spiders are certainly eaten and I have watched a juvenile taking trapped flies from a spider’s web. The sounds of a Green Woodpecker exploring a tree, with bark tapping to get at wood-boring insects, gives a worthwhile recording sequence. In addition, berries from various plant species are eaten by Green Woodpeckers, although access to them may be a problem.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
European Green Woodpecker status Least Concern


Resident. In western and central Europe, dispersal very local in character; individual movements above 20 km unusual. Becomes more widespread within breeding range in autumn-winter, when some birds (especially immatures) leave well-timbered sites to range into (e.g.) farmland, orchards, and along watercourses; adults show high degree of fidelity to home-range.

Distribution map

European Green Woodpecker distribution range map

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