Great Spotted Woodpecker

Dendrocopos major



The upperparts are mostly black, including the wings and tail, but they have white barring. There are white sections on the shoulders, the underparts are white with a brownish tinge, and there are red feathers beneath the tail. The throat and the face are white, and a thick black line begins at the bill and joins the black nape. Males have a red patch behind the head, and females lack this marking. Juveniles are similar to male adults, but the red markings are less vivid.


Lives amongst trees big enough to excavate for nesting holes. When in populated areas, may find trees in parklands or gardens.


Spends majority of its time elevated on trees or other structures, and has a way of moving quickly up a tree and becoming completely still when threatened. Usually seen alone when not breeding, and when in breeding season, rapid and loud chases through the trees occur between pairs. Uses its bill to crack open tough insects or shells against trees.


Summer diet is mostly insects, and winter diet is mostly seeds and nuts. This bird invades insect nests with its lengthy, sticky tongue, and may also prey on young birds in the same fashion. Attracted to hanging bird feeders.


Nests are made in trees around April. Female lays 4-6 eggs which both adults incubate for about 15 days. Both parents feed the hatchlings, which fly when they're about 20 days old, though continue to be fed by parents for at least a further week.


Most of the birds in the region are resident, not straying too far from nesting areas, though the region does receive some northern European populations in autumn, if food is scarce over there. More than 140 000 pairs breed in Britain.

Observation Tips

Its high-pitched call is often the best indicator of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and feeders are a good way of drawing this bird closer.


Has a shrill 'tchick tchick' call, and a more melodious 'drumming', which is the sound of the bird's beak on a branch. It's a sound males use territorially and is usually heard in breeding season.
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