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Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker Male Great Spotted Woodpecker Male
Black and white head and back, white underparts, red nape and rump.
Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.
Dendrocopos major
Length: 22-23 cm  (9")
Wing Span: 34-39 cm  (14-16")
Weight: 70-90 g  (2½-3¼ oz) Female Great Spotted Woodpecker Female
Like male but no red on nape.
Breeding Pairs: 27 500
Present: All Year
Status: Green
Description   Voice   Feeding   Nesting   Movements   Conservation   My Garden  
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The Great Spotted Woodpecker is a pied woodpecker: black with a large white shoulder patch and scarlet underneath the tail. It is much larger than the other British pied woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. The Great Spotted Woodpecker is about the size of a Starling, while the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is more sparrow-sized.

The head is black and white: black crown and nape, white forehead, cheeks and throat. The back, wings and tail are black, except for the large white shoulder patches and smaller white spots on the wings. The underparts are whitish-buff with red underneath the tail (undertail coverts). The bill is grey coloured, the legs are grey-green and the eye is red.

The sexes are similar except that the male has a red patch on the nape and the female does not.

Juveniles have a red crown, pink vent and "blotchy" white shoulder patches.

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.

Their flight is very undulating as they completely fold their wings against the body between each series of several flaps.


Choose from Quicktime and mp3. Call Drumming
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Their contact call is a loud "tchick" sound.

The male Great Spotted Woodpecker is renowned for drumming its bill on a branch, which usually last only a few seconds and comprises 8-12 beats and fades away at the end.


Woodpeckers probe tree trunks for insects and larvae, but also feed on nuts and berries (in the winter). They grip the bark with their strong claws and, when probing the crevices or drilling holes, use their stiff tail feathers as a prop. In the summer, they will take bird eggs and nestlings from nests (including those in nest boxes, in to which they gain entry by increasing the size of the hole).

The woodpecker's tongue is extremely long and sticky for extracting insects, such as ants, from their nest chambers and crevices. The tongue is so long that its muscles wrap around the rear of the skull and back to the upper mandible.

Increasingly, Great Spotted Woodpeckers are feeding from peanut and suet feeders in gardens.


The nest is a chamber in a tree which is chiselled out by both birds. When chiselling, the woodpecker does not tap as quickly as when the male performs its drumming song.

The eggs are white, smooth and glossy, and about 26 mm by 19 mm. Both birds share the duty of incubating the eggs and feeding the young.

Breeding Data
Breeding Starts Number of Clutches Number of Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
mid-April 1 3-8 10-16 18-21


The Great Spotted Woodpecker is a resident breeding bird and is sedentary apart from the dispersal of juveniles from their natal grounds.


The Great Spotted Woodpecker's range continues to expand, and this has been partly aided by Dutch elm disease, which provided extra dead wood for nest sites.

My Garden

Graph of garden visits.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker likes a dead tree and, until the gales of February 1999, next door's garden had a dead tree. The male bird had spent much time during the previous two years drumming away at the trunk either looking for wood-boring insects or drilling holes to store nuts.

In late November 1999 a male Great Spotted Woodpecker flew from our garden into the neighbour's apple tree where is spent several minutes probing the trunk and branches for insects. During the summer of 2002 a juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker started to visit the garden, especially the peanut feeders, several times each day. Any House Sparrows that attempted to share the feeder were quickly and harshly seen off. Since then, they occasionally visit the garden a few times in some years, usually at the beginning of the autumn, and are possibly young birds dispersing from their natal grounds.

Last revision: 17 May 2012
Copyright © David Gains 1999-2014.
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