Picidae – Woodpeckers

Magellanic Woodpecker Campephilus magellanicus ©Steven Brumby Website

Woodpeckers are highly specialised and hence fascinating birds. Besides the true woodpeckers which are familiar and easily recognisable as such by almost all, including non-birders, the Picidae family also includes Wrynecks, Piculets, Flickers and Sapsuckers. The majority of woodpeckers are specialists in climbing tree trunks and in excavating their own nest-holes in trunks and branches. They have evolved certain anatomical adaptations such as strong feet with mobile toes, claws for clinging to smooth surfaces, stiff tail feathers to help them steady themselves on tree trunks and other vertical surfaces, strong chisel shaped bills and skulls with attached shock-absorbers and also very long tongues for probing into crevices and insect nests to search out larvae. The fact that woodpeckers are excavators of holes means that many species have become important as the suppliers of nest-holes for other birds, mammals and even insects. In Europe, for example, Black Woodpecker holes are occupied by Stock Doves and Pygmy Owls. In the deserts of Arizona Elf Owls rely to a great extent on holes made by woodpeckers in cactus stands.

Another interesting feature of woodpecker behaviour is that many species also drum rather than sing. Several species also make use of anvils, workshops or a smithy. These terms refer to a place, usually a crevice or notch in a branch, tree-stump or even a wall, where birds wedge items of food such as nuts or pinecones and then hack them open in situget at the contents.

And if all these fascinating behavioural traits were not enough many woodpeckers are also strikingly colourful and beautiful birds. The Greater Flameback and Black-headed Woodpecker of Southeast Asia are just two examples. And can you think of a bird with a better name than Yellow-bellied Sapsucker? Have you ever witnessed the fly-catching flight of Lewis`s Woodpecker? Watched a gregarious band of comical-looking Acorn Woodpeckers in action?

Yet, all things considered, it is probably the ability of woodpeckers to bore their own nest-holes in trees (and other plants) and their drumming (though not all woodpeckers drum) that really sets then apart. Of course, ornithologists and birders are fond of making cases for the uniqueness of their favourite bird families, but for me the features mentioned above and the morphology and behaviour of these birds combine to make woodpeckers one of the most enigmatic of bird families.

Woodpeckers can be regarded as successful birds with the over 200 species being fairly well distributed around the globe though, perhaps not surprisingly, they do not inhabit the treeless regions of the Arctic and Antarctic. However, their absence from some heavily wooded regions such as Australia and Madagascar is perhaps a surprise. Then again some species have adapted to living in sparsely wooded grasslands such as the Nubian Woodpecker on the savanna of East Africa and the Campo Flicker in South America, and in barren stony areas as does the terrestrial Ground Woodpecker in South Africa, and as in the case of Gila Woodpecker even in deserts where there are more cacti than trees. The Neotropics are home to some of the most impressive species including the mighty Magellanic Woodpecker. Though most likely extinct two huge and enigmatic species, Imperial and Ivory-billed, are/were birds to rival any, anywhere.

Continental Europe, where I have conducted most of my woodpecker observations, is home to ten species, nine true woodpeckers and the migratory Northern Wryneck. Though I see and hear Black Woodpeckers almost every time I go out into the woods around Budapest I never fail to stop and admire this impressive bird.

Gerard Gorman is author of a handbook on European woodpeckers.

Species List

According to the IOC there are 235 woodpeckers, which are:

Green-backed Woodpecker Campethera cailliautii
Little Green Woodpecker Campethera maculosa
Tullberg’s Woodpecker Campethera tullbergi
Buff-spotted Woodpecker Campethera nivosa
Brown-eared Woodpecker Campethera caroli

Ground Woodpecker Geocolaptes olivaceus

Sulawesi Pygmy Woodpecker Yungipicus temminckii
Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker Yungipicus nanus
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker Yungipicus canicapillus
Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker Yungipicus maculatus
Sulu Pygmy Woodpecker Yungipicus ramsayi
Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker Yungipicus moluccensis
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker Yungipicus kizuki

Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus
American Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides dorsalis
Black-backed Woodpecker Picoides arcticus

Arabian Woodpecker Dendrocoptes dorae
Brown-fronted Woodpecker Dendrocoptes auriceps
Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocoptes medius

Yellow-crowned Woodpecker Leiopicus mahrattensis

Bearded Woodpecker Chloropicus namaquus
Yellow-crested Woodpecker Chloropicus xantholophus
Fire-bellied Woodpecker Chloropicus pyrrhogaster

Little Grey Woodpecker Dendropicos elachus
Speckle-breasted Woodpecker Dendropicos poecilolaemus
Abyssinian Woodpecker Dendropicos abyssinicus
Cardinal Woodpecker Dendropicos fuscescens
Gabon Woodpecker Dendropicos gabonensis
Melancholy Woodpecker Dendropicos lugubris
Stierling’s Woodpecker Dendropicos stierlingi
Elliot’s Woodpecker Dendropicos elliotii
African Grey Woodpecker Dendropicos goertae
Eastern Grey Woodpecker Dendropicos spodocephalus
Olive Woodpecker Dendropicos griseocephalus
Brown-backed Woodpecker Dendropicos obsoletus

Nuttall’s Woodpecker Dryobates nuttallii
Ladder-backed Woodpecker Dryobates scalaris
Downy Woodpecker Dryobates pubescens
Crimson-breasted Woodpecker Dryobates cathpharius
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dryobates minor

Little Woodpecker Veniliornis passerinus
Dot-fronted Woodpecker Veniliornis frontalis
White-spotted Woodpecker Veniliornis spilogaster
Checkered Woodpecker Veniliornis mixtus
Striped Woodpecker Veniliornis lignarius
Scarlet-backed Woodpecker Veniliornis callonotus
Yellow-vented Woodpecker Veniliornis dignus
Bar-bellied Woodpecker Veniliornis nigriceps
Blood-colored Woodpecker Veniliornis sanguineus
Red-rumped Woodpecker Veniliornis kirkii
Red-stained Woodpecker Veniliornis affinis
Choco Woodpecker Veniliornis chocoensis
Golden-collared Woodpecker Veniliornis cassini
Yellow-eared Woodpecker Veniliornis maculifrons

Red-cockaded Woodpecker Leuconotopicus borealis
Smoky-brown Woodpecker Leuconotopicus fumigatus
Arizona Woodpecker Leuconotopicus arizonae
Strickland’s Woodpecker Leuconotopicus stricklandi
Hairy Woodpecker Leuconotopicus villosus
White-headed Woodpecker Leuconotopicus albolarvatus

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker Dendrocopos hyperythrus
Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker Dendrocopos macei
Freckle-breasted Woodpecker Dendrocopos analis
Stripe-breasted Woodpecker Dendrocopos atratus
Darjeeling Woodpecker Dendrocopos darjellensis
Himalayan Woodpecker Dendrocopos himalayensis
Sind Woodpecker Dendrocopos assimilis
Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopos syriacus
White-winged Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucopterus
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
Okinawa Woodpecker Dendrocopos noguchii
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos

Rufous-winged Woodpecker Piculus simplex
Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker Piculus callopterus
White-throated Woodpecker Piculus leucolaemus
Lita Woodpecker Piculus litae
Yellow-throated Woodpecker Piculus flavigula
Golden-green Woodpecker Piculus chrysochloros
Yellow-browed Woodpecker Piculus aurulentus

Golden-olive Woodpecker Colaptes rubiginosus
Grey-crowned Woodpecker Colaptes auricularis
Bronze-winged Woodpecker Colaptes aeruginosus
Crimson-mantled Woodpecker Colaptes rivolii
Black-necked Woodpecker Colaptes atricollis
Spot-breasted Woodpecker Colaptes punctigula
Green-barred Woodpecker Colaptes melanochloros
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
Gilded Flicker Colaptes chrysoides
Fernandina’s Flicker Colaptes fernandinae
Chilean Flicker Colaptes pitius
Andean Flicker Colaptes rupicola
Campo Flicker Colaptes campestris

Cinnamon Woodpecker Celeus loricatus
Waved Woodpecker Celeus undatus
Scaly-breasted Woodpecker Celeus grammicus
Chestnut-colored Woodpecker Celeus castaneus
Chestnut Woodpecker Celeus elegans
Pale-crested Woodpecker Celeus lugubris
Blond-crested Woodpecker Celeus flavescens
Ochre-backed Woodpecker Celeus ochraceus
Cream-colored Woodpecker Celeus flavus
Rufous-headed Woodpecker Celeus spectabilis
Kaempfer’s Woodpecker Celeus obrieni
Ringed Woodpecker Celeus torquatus
Helmeted Woodpecker Celeus galeatus

Black-bodied Woodpecker Dryocopus schulzii
Lineated Woodpecker Dryocopus lineatus
Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus
White-bellied Woodpecker Dryocopus javensis
Andaman Woodpecker Dryocopus hodgei
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius

Powerful Woodpecker Campephilus pollens
Crimson-bellied Woodpecker Campephilus haematogaster
Red-necked Woodpecker Campephilus rubricollis
Robust Woodpecker Campephilus robustus
Crimson-crested Woodpecker Campephilus melanoleucos
Pale-billed Woodpecker Campephilus guatemalensis
Guayaquil Woodpecker Campephilus gayaquilensis
Cream-backed Woodpecker Campephilus leucopogon
Magellanic Woodpecker Campephilus magellanicus
Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis
Imperial Woodpecker Campephilus imperialis

Banded Woodpecker Chrysophlegma miniaceum
Checker-throated Woodpecker Chrysophlegma mentale
Greater Yellownape Chrysophlegma flavinucha

Lesser Yellownape Picus chlorolophus
Crimson-winged Woodpecker Picus puniceus
Streak-breasted Woodpecker Picus viridanus
Laced Woodpecker Picus vittatus
Streak-throated Woodpecker Picus xanthopygaeus
Scaly-bellied Woodpecker Picus squamatus
Japanese Green Woodpecker Picus awokera
European Green Woodpecker Picus viridis
Iberian Green Woodpecker Picus sharpei
Levaillant’s Woodpecker Picus vaillantii
Red-collared Woodpecker Picus rabieri
Black-headed Woodpecker Picus erythropygius
Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus

Olive-backed Woodpecker Dinopium rafflesii
Himalayan Flameback Dinopium shorii
Common Flameback Dinopium javanense
Spot-throated Flameback Dinopium everetti
Black-rumped Flameback Dinopium benghalense
Red-backed Flameback Dinopium psarodes

Buff-spotted Flameback Chrysocolaptes lucidus
Luzon Flameback Chrysocolaptes haematribon
Yellow-faced Flameback Chrysocolaptes xanthocephalus
Red-headed Flameback Chrysocolaptes erythrocephalus
Javan Flameback Chrysocolaptes strictus
Greater Flameback Chrysocolaptes guttacristatus
Crimson-backed Flameback Chrysocolaptes stricklandi
White-naped Woodpecker Chrysocolaptes festivus

Pale-headed Woodpecker Gecinulus grantia
Bamboo Woodpecker Gecinulus viridis

Maroon Woodpecker Blythipicus rubiginosus
Bay Woodpecker Blythipicus pyrrhotis

Orange-backed Woodpecker Reinwardtipicus validus

Rufous Woodpecker Micropternus brachyurus

Buff-rumped Woodpecker Meiglyptes tristis
Black-and-buff Woodpecker Meiglyptes jugularis
Buff-necked Woodpecker Meiglyptes tukki

Ashy Woodpecker Mulleripicus fulvus
Sooty Woodpecker Mulleripicus funebris
Great Slaty Woodpecker Mulleripicus pulverulentus

Species Links
  • Acorn Woodpecker Melanerpes formicivorus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Acorn Woodpecker Melanerpes formicivorus

    Cornell Species Account
    Reminiscent of a troupe of wide-eyed clowns, Acorn Woodpeckers live in large groups in western oak woodlands. Their social lives are endlessly fascinating: they store thousands of acorns each year by jamming them into specially made holes in trees.
  • Acorn Woodpecker Melanerpes formicivorus

    Species Account
    The acorn woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) is a medium-sized woodpecker, 21 cm (8.3 in) long, with an average weight of 85 g (3.0 oz).
  • Cinnamon Woodpecker Celeus loricatus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Cinnamon Woodpecker Celeus loricatus

    Species Account
    El carpintero canelo (Celeus loricatus) es una especie de ave de a familia Picidae, que se encuentra en Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nicaragua y Panamá.
  • Cinnamon Woodpecker Celeus loricatus

    Cornell Species Account
    It is brightly plumaged cinnamon rufous above, with fine black bars, and white below with sharp black chevrons. As with other species in the genus, males differ by having a red flicker-like moustache, and a brighter yellow bill. In Central America, overlaps with the Chestnut-colored Woodpecker (Celeus castaneus), which has a paler rufous crest, and dark chesnut underparts with black chevrons. Cinnamon prefers the canopy of tall forest, while Chestnut-colored is more likely to be found in secondary woodland and at the edge of clearings. Cinnamon also ranges higher in elevation into the foothills. In South America, the Cinnamon Woodpecker is the only Celeus on the Pacific slope, and likewise is found from the lowland forests up into the lower foothills along the west slope of the Andes. Most other South American Celeus are Amazonian in distribution. The call is rather unique ringing “peee-peee-pew-pu,” quite different from Chestnut-colored. Like other Celeus woodpeckers, it is known to forage on ants and termites.
  • Crimson-bellied Woodpecker Campephilus haematogaster

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife Species profile
  • Crimson-bellied Woodpecker Campephilus haematogaster

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Crimson-bellied Woodpecker Campephilus haematogaster

    Cornell Species Account
    Cornell species account
  • Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla

    IUCN Species Status
  • Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla

    Species Account
    The Eurasian wryneck (Jynx torquilla) is a species of wryneck in the woodpecker family. This species mainly breeds in temperate regions of Europe and Asia. Most populations are migratory, wintering in tropical Africa and in southern Asia from Iran to the Indian Subcontinent, but some are resident in northwestern Africa. It is a bird of open countryside, woodland and orchards.
  • Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla

    RSPB Species Account
    Wrynecks are small sparrow-sized birds, appearing greyish overall, with brown and buff mottling. They have a contrasting dark band running down from the back of the head onto the back. They feed almost exclusively on ants and unlike other woodpeckers, are seen mainly on the ground, and do not often climb up vertical trunks or branches.
  • Great-spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major

    RSPB Species Account
    About blackbird-sized and striking black-and-white. It has a very distinctive bouncing flight and spends most of its time clinging to tree trunks and branches, often trying to hide on the side away from the observer.
  • Great-spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major

    IUCN Species Status
  • Great-spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major

    Species Account
    The great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) is found across Eurasia and parts of North Africa. this woodpecker is mainly resident unless the conifer cone crop in the north of its range collapses, but the tendency of some birds to wander widely means that it has recolonised Ireland and is a rare visitor to North America.
  • Great-spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus

    Species Account
    The hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus) is a medium-sized woodpecker, averaging approximately 250 mm (9.8 in) in length with a 380 mm (15 in) wingspan.
  • Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus

    Cornell Species Account
    The larger of two look alikes, the Hairy Woodpecker is a small but powerful bird that forages along trunks and main branches of large trees
  • Red-cockaded Woodpecker Picoides borealis

    IUCN Species Status
  • Red-cockaded Woodpecker Picoides borealis

    Species Account
    The red-cockaded woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis) is a woodpecker found in southeastern North America.
  • Red-cockaded Woodpecker Picoides borealis

    Cornell Species Account
    The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a habitat specialist of the Southeast’s once-vast longleaf pine stands.
  • Red-headed Woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus

    IUCN Species Status
  • Red-headed Woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Red-headed Woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus

    Species Account
    The red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) is a small or medium-sized woodpecker from temperate North America. Their breeding habitat is open country across southern Canada and the eastern-central United States. The species is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN.
  • Red-headed Woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus

    Cornell Species Account
    The gorgeous Red-headed Woodpecker is so boldly patterned it’s been called a “flying checkerboard,” with an entirely crimson head, a snow-white body, and half white, half inky black wings
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 235

Useful Reading
  • In Search of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

    | By Jerome A Jackson | Harper Collins | 2006 | Paperback | 294 pages, colour plates | ISBN: 9780060891558 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Ivorybill Hunters – The Search for Proof in a Flooded Wilderness

    | By Geoffrey E Hill | OUP | 2007 | Hardback | 260 pages, 59 halftones, 11 line illustrations | ISBN: 9780195323467 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • The Black Woodpecker: A Monograph on Dryocopus Martius

    | By Gerard Gorman | Lynx Edicions | 2011 | Hardback | 184 pages, 16 colour plates, colour & b/w photos & illustrations, colour maps | ISBN: 9788496553798 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • The Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

    | (Surviving in a Fire Maintained Ecosystem) | by Richard N Connor, D Craig Rudolph & Jeffery R Walters | University of Texas Press | 2001 | Hardback | 363 pages, colour photos, b/w photos, illustrations, figures, tables | ISBN: 9780292712348 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Woodpeckers

    | (A Guide to the Woodpeckers, Piculets and Wrynecks of the World) | By Hans Winkler, David A Christie & David Nurney | Pica Press | 1995 | Hardback | 406 pages, 64 colour plates, line illustrations, maps | ISBN: 9781873403259 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Woodpeckers of Europe - A study of the European Picidae

    | By Gerard Gorman | Bruce Coleman Books | 2004 | Hardback | 192 pages, Colour plates, distribution maps, 72 line illustrations | ISBN: 9781872842059 Buy this book from NHBS.com
Other Links
  • Woodpeckers of Europe

    Woodpeckers of Europe is dedicated to the 10 species of woodpecker (Picidae) that breed in Europe: 9 resident species and the migratory Wryneck. 8 of these 10 also occur outside Europe, with the distribution of Eurasian Three-toed, White-backed, Lesser Spotted, Great Spotted, Black & Grey-headed Woodpeckers stretching eastwards from the Western Palearctic into Asia, whilst Syrian is found in the Middle East & Asia Minor & Wryneck winters in Africa. The global ranges of Green & Middle Spotted Woodpeckers are confined to the Western Palearctic.
  • Woodpeckers of the World

    Photographs, sounds, habitats, data & discussion on the world's Picidae…

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