Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Key facts

Scientific name: Dendrocopos major

Status: Resident breeding species

Breeding pairs: 140,000

Conservation status: Green

Length: 22 – 23 cm

Wingspan: 34 – 39 cm

Weight: 70 – 90 g

Key facts

Despite its name, the great spotted woodpecker is not that big at only about the size of a starling.

Great spotted woodpeckers are black and white with white shoulder patches and a distinctive bright red tail. Male great spotted woodpeckers have a red patch on the nape which distinguishes them from females.

Juveniles have a red crown and blotchy white shoulder patches but look quite similar to the adult woodpeckers.

Great spotted woodpeckers have stiff tail feathers, which they use as a prop when hopping up trees and to assist with its grips. Their feet are zygodactyls and have two toes pointing forwards and two toes pointing backwards.

Great spotted woodpeckers’ characteristic drumming noise is a good identification feature and is used, like a bird’s song, to claim their territory.


Great spotted woodpeckers nest in old trees, excavating a hole using their strong bills and lining the nest with wood chips.

They lay a single brood of 4 to 7 glossy white eggs, which they incubate for 10-13 days and chicks will fledge after 18 days.

Great spotted woodpeckers can live for up to ten years and every year they excavate a new nest hole which means they leave lots of potential nest sites for other hole nesting birds and animals.


Great spotted woodpeckers like dead trees as these provide a good source of food. They probe tree trunks for insects and larvae and use their long, sticky tongue to extract insects from their nests and crevices.

Great spotted woodpeckers also eat tree sap, nuts, berries, seeds and fat in winter, and in spring they will take the eggs and young of other birds from their nests.

In gardens they will visit bird tables and feeders and will happily tuck into peanuts, sunflower seeds and fat.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Where to see them

Great spotted woodpeckers are one of the most adaptable woodpeckers and can live in various habitats as long as there are trees. They particularly like oak and horn beam trees and are most common in woodland areas, as well as parks and gardens.

Great spotted woodpeckers can even be found in the middle of cities providing there are tall trees.

They are found all over the UK and have recently been reintroduced to Ireland.


Jarek Matusiak/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Great spotted woodpeckers will strike a tree with their bill over 40 times a second to create their distinctive drumming sound.

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