Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

Great Spotted Woodpecker

[order] PICIFORMES | [family] Picidae | [latin] Dendrocopos major | [UK] Great Spotted Woodpecker | [FR] Pic epeiche | [DE] Buntspecht | [ES] Carpintero Picapinos | [NL] Grote Bonte Specht


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Dendrocopos major EU widespread
Picoides major
Dendrocopos major anglicus Great Britain
Dendrocopos major beicki c China
Dendrocopos major brevirostris w Siberia to e Siberia, ne China, n Mongolia
Dendrocopos major cabanisi e China
Dendrocopos major canariensis Tenerife (Canary Is.)
Dendrocopos major candidus Romania and s Ukraine to Greece
Dendrocopos major hainanus Hainan I. (off se China)
Dendrocopos major harterti Sardinia
Dendrocopos major hispanus Iberian Pen.
Dendrocopos major italiae Italy, Sicily and w Slovenia
Dendrocopos major japonicus se Siberia, ne China, Korea and n and c Japan
Dendrocopos major kamtschaticus Kamchatka Pen. (e Siberia)
Dendrocopos major major Scandinavia and ne Poland to w Siberia
Dendrocopos major mandarinus s China and e Burma to n Laos and n Vietnam
Dendrocopos major mauritanus Morocco
Dendrocopos major numidus n Algeria and Tunesia
Dendrocopos major paphlagoniae n Turkey
Dendrocopos major parroti Corsica
Dendrocopos major pinetorum c Europe
Dendrocopos major poelzami se Azerbaijan, n Iran and sw Turkmenistan
Dendrocopos major stresemanni ne India, ne Burma and s China
Dendrocopos major tenuirostris Caucasus and Transcaucasia (sw Asia)
Dendrocopos major thanneri Gran Canaria I. (Canary Is.)
Dendrocopos major wulashanicus Inner Mongolia (n China)

Physical charateristics

Great-spotted Woodpecker is the most widespread and common woodpecker on the European continent. Male has black and white plumage, with red vent and rear crown. Forehead is buffy-white and crown is black. Cheeks and throat are white with a black moustache, joining the red nape, descending towards the chest and joining again the black back while it borders a white patch on the side of the neck. Upperparts are black, with white large patches on wings and white edges on primaries. Tail is black with white spots on outer feathers. Underparts are whitish with a broad black semi-collar on upper breast, and red vent.
The strong pointed bill is black, eyes are dark, circled by fine white stripe. Legs and zygodactylous feet are greyish. It has long sticky tongue, to extract insects and larvae from bark crevices. Female has entire black crown. Juvenile has red crown and duller plumage than adults. Birds of west and south of Europe have brownish-white forehead and underparts, and weaker bill. Birds from Algeria and Tunisia have black and red chest, and red of the vent extending to belly.
Great-spotted Woodpecker feeds mostly in trees, on trunks and large branches. It drills holes to get sap, and the insects attracted to it. Rarely feeds on the ground. It catches pine-cones or nuts between the bark, in order to open the seeds with its beak. The routine is to work upwards on the trunk, and also side to side, taping the bark to extract food from crevices, with the tip of its sticky tongue. Spring is announced by early morning drumming, and aerial chases with 2 or 3 birds through the canopy, while they chatter loudly. Flight displays are performed by both adults. They perform spiral flights and align close to the trunk with semi-open and quivering wings. The Great-spotted Woodpecker is very shy, and outside breeding season, solitary. It roosts in old holes in trees.

Listen to the sound of Great Spotted Woodpecker

[audio: Spotted Woodpecker.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 38 cm wingspan max.: 44 cm
size min.: 23 cm size max.: 26 cm
incubation min.: 10 days incubation max.: 13 days
fledging min.: 20 days fledging max.: 13 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 4  
      eggs max.: 7  


Eurasia : widespread


From arctic taiga through boreal and temperate to Mediterranean and alpine forest zones, wherever there are trees of any sort with sufficient growth to accommodate nest-holes. Isolated and scattered trees in parks, avenues, gardens, orchards, and open or miniature woodlands less favoured, unless adjoined by larger stands of broad-leaved, coniferous, or mixed tree species, latter being commonly preferred.


Great-spotted Woodpecker nests in holes. Both adults excavate this hole, in March and April. They use a new nest each year, excavating the hole during one or two weeks, depending on the hardness of the wood. The chamber of the nest is about 30 cm deep, and the entrance is oval-shaped, at about 4 m above the ground. The chamber is lined with wood chips. The female lays 4 to 7 white eggs, between mid-may to early June. Incubation lasts about 16 days, done by female during the day, and by male at night. Chicks hatch altricial, and both parents feed them. They fledge at about 18 to 21 days of age. They reach their sexual maturity at one year. Adults keep the nest clean, removing chick’s droppings. Young are very noisy. Adults remain in nearly area while chicks are in the nest. This species produces only one brood per year.

Feeding habits

Mainly insects, but tree seeds (mainly of conifers) often staple diet in winter; bird eggs and nestlings may be common in diet during summer. Climbs trees in search of insects using stiff tail-feathers as prop; may hang upside down from branches but never proceeds head downward. In summer, pokes and probes fissures in bark for surface insects and uses bill as forceps to pull away bark. In winter, seeks insects in decaying trees mainly by hacking and pecking at bark and wood, knocking off loose material with lateral blows of bill and cutting grooves with vertical blows. Chisels holes up to 10 cm deep to expose wood-boring beetles and larvae. Tongue extends up to 40 mm and harpoon-like tip used to impale soft-bodied prey; harder insects adhere to tongue bristles coated with sticky saliva. In many populations conifer seeds important in winter; cones gathered and taken to ?anvil? (often specially prepared) for extraction of seeds. Fleshy fruits regularly eaten in summer and autumn. Locally, may be major predator of tit nestlings, especially Willow Tit. Drills rings of holes round trees to drink sap oozing out, or possibly also to eat exposed cambium of tree or to feed on insects attracted to sap.


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 increasing, 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.
Great Spotted Woodpecker status Least Concern


Largely resident and dispersive; N populations also subject to eruptive migration. Juvenile dispersal often over 100 km, and up to c. 600 km. In N Europe, periodic eruptive movements triggered by poor crop of pine or spruce seeds, begin in late Jul; small groups and loose flocks migrate S & W, and occasionally large numbers involved, e.g. 2240 through Pape, in Latvia, during Aug-Oct 1999, and Sizeable flocks recorded in N Britain in autumn 2001; individuals may stray more than 3000 km, some reaching oceanic islands. Similar movements in Far East, but less well studied; stragglers found even on remote islands. Also, populations in mountain areas descend to valleys in winter. (del Hoyo J Elliott A, Sargatal J (eds) 2002)

Distribution map

Great Spotted Woodpecker distribution range map

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *