Great Spotted Woodpecker

The black, white, and red-spotted woodpeckers give themselves away by their loud drumming. Often they can even be observed on trees in our gardens.


What does the great spotted woodpecker look like?

Great spotted woodpeckers belong to the woodpecker family and are there to the genus of great spotted woodpeckers. They measure a maximum of 25 centimeters from the beak to the tip of the tail and weigh 74 to 95 grams.

Because their plumage is very conspicuously black, white, and red, they are really easy to spot: they are black on top with two large white spots on the wings, and the belly is yellowish-grey. There is a large red spot to the right and left of the base of the tail. The males also have a red spot on their necks. The head is white on the sides with black stripes on the beard. Young birds have a red top of their head.

Also typical of woodpeckers are the pointed, curved claws on their feet, which they use to climb tree trunks. Two toes point forward and two-point backward. This allows the birds to hold on to branches and tree trunks. Great spotted woodpeckers have another special feature: they have unusually thick skin. So they are well protected from the bites of insects – their favorite prey.

Where does the great spotted woodpecker live?

Great spotted woodpeckers are the most common species of woodpeckers in our country. Apart from Europe, they are found in parts of Asia and North Africa. Great spotted woodpeckers can be found in deciduous and coniferous forests, but just as well in parks and gardens – i.e. wherever there are trees.

The more old or dead wood there is in an area, the more spotted woodpeckers prefer to settle there. Often you can easily spot them around the house in the trees in the garden.

What species of great spotted woodpecker are there?

There are about 20 subspecies of our native Great Spotted Woodpecker in the different regions of its range. These are found from the Canary Islands across North Africa and across Europe to Asia Minor and parts of Asia. Relatives of the great spotted woodpecker that also live with us are, for example, the medium-sized woodpecker, the lesser woodpecker, the three-toed woodpecker, the green woodpecker, and the black woodpecker.

How old can great spotted woodpeckers get?

Great spotted woodpeckers can live up to eight years.


How does a great spotted woodpecker live?

Great spotted woodpeckers are diurnal birds that are not only easy to recognize by their striking coloration. Their posture is also typical: you can usually see them sitting upright on branches or skilfully walking up trunks. If they want to go down, they never run headfirst, but climb down backward.

Great spotted woodpeckers are not great flight artists. They can fly naturally and their undulating flight is unmistakable. But they don’t cover long distances, they usually stay in their territory and climb around on the trees there. The beak of the great spotted woodpecker is a versatile tool: it is used to hollow out a nest hole, chop branches, and bore for food in the tree bark. They use their beak-like tweezers to pull larvae and insects out of the wood.

And of course, the beak is used for drumming, knocking, and hammering: great spotted woodpeckers drum on everything that is loud: on hollow tree trunks, dead branches, but also on gutters or window frames. But how do great spotted woodpeckers withstand the violent hammering?

Quite simply: They have a flexible, flexible connection between the base of the beak and the skull, which acts as a shock absorber. They also have strong muscles in the back of their heads and strong bones. Great spotted woodpeckers remain in their territory all year round. Birds from northern and eastern Europe, on the other hand, migrate south in winter, for example to northern Germany.

Over the course of their lives, great spotted woodpeckers carve out many dens that are also used by other bird species. Pygmy owls always breed in old abandoned woodpecker holes, but starlings, tits, and even bats, squirrels, or dormouse like to move into old woodpecker holes as new tenants.

Friends and foes of the great spotted woodpecker

Small predators such as martens and birds of prey such as sparrowhawks and hawks or tawny owls and other owls are particularly dangerous for young spotted woodpeckers.

How does the great spotted woodpecker reproduce?

When Great Spotted Woodpecker males fight over a female during courtship, they open their beak wide and raise their head feathers. Once a male has captured a female, the two stay together for one breeding season. They carve – usually together – a 30 to 50 centimeters deep brood cavity with their beak.

After mating, the female lays four to seven white eggs. These incubate males and females alternately for eleven to 13 days. The young are fed by both parents for three to four weeks until they fledge and are independent. They become sexually mature at the age of one year.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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