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Great Spotted Woodpecker

Latin Name: Dendrocopos Major

The most widespread and numerous woodpecker in the UK. About the size of a blackbird they are a striking black and white bird, mainly seen clinging to tree trunks and branches. They have a bouncy flight and their presence can usually be heard by the distinctive 'drumming' sound during the spring time. They also have a loud call.

Only two species of black and white woodpeckers occur in the UK, and the Great Spotted is the larger of them. They are mainly found in woodlands, however they will come into parks and large gardens and love bird tables and particularly peanut feeders.

The drumming sound relies not so much on a heavy knock, but more on the correct frequency of knocks (around 10-40 strikes per second) to make the timber resonate, although they do have shock-absorbent tissue at the base of their skull as well.



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They are a black and white bird where their upperparts are glossy black, with white on the sides of the face and neck. A black line runs from the shoulder halfway across the breast, then back to the nape. A black stripe, extending from the bill, runs below the eye. The shoulder has a large white patch and the flight feathers are barred with black and white. The outer tail feathers are also barred and these show when the short stiff tail is outspread. They use their tail as a support when climbing. The belly and chest are dull white, with a red area at the base of the tail. The bill is slate black and the legs greenish grey.

Identification between male, female and juvenile is achieved from looking at it's head. Males have a black crown with a red stripe across the nape, females have black heads an on sign of red at all, whilst juveniles have a red crown and pinkish tail base.

Juvenile - red cap Male - red stripe across back of neck


Animal Facts

In Britain: All year round

Life Span: No typical age, maximum recorded age is 10 yr 9 months

Statistics: 22cm long, Weight 70-90g, Wingspan 34-39cm

Habitat: Woodlands especially with mature board-leaved trees, although mature conifers are also a favourite. Can also be seen in orchards and parks in towns.

Food: Mostly insects, especially beetles found under bark or in dead wood, but also seeds and nuts. They sometimes take eggs and chicks of hole-nesting birds.

Breeding:  lay 4-6 eggs in late May, incubation 14-16 days, young fledge at 20-24 days. They have just one brood a year.

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Distribution: All over mainland Britain except the far north of Scotland, most common in England and Wales. Not found in Ireland. There are believed to be 37-44,000 breeding pairs in the UK.

Behaviour:  They are not seen on the ground, but will visit bird tables. They spend most of their time in trees or on bird feeders, especially peanut feeders. It moves about the tree trunk by hopping rather than climbing, leaping with one foot just in advance of the others, working upwards, from side to side. On its way up it will tap the bark, breaking off fragments to get at the insects underneath using the tip of it's sticky tongue. It will sometimes perch. They define their territory by hammering/drumming on dead wood, however some have found they can make even more noise by hammering on the metal plates on the tops of telegraph poles. This is not a dedicated courtship call or challenge, but a signal given by either sex to announce its presence. It is audible from a great distance, depending on the wind and the condition of the wood, a hollow bough producing a louder note than living wood. They nest in soft wood and create a hole 6-12 inches in depth where at the bottom a small chamber is excavated and lined with wood chips. A new nest site is excavated every year, by both sexes.

Conservation Status: Least concern


See Also

Photographing Woodpeckers

Green Woodpecker

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

BTO Web 

RSPB - Great Spotted Woodpecker - a sound recording and video clip



By: Tracey Park Section: Birds Key:
Page Ref: woodpecker_gspotted Topic: Wildlife & Animals Last Updated: 05/2009

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