British Wildlife Wiki

Great Spotted Woodpecker -

The Great Spotted Woodpecker (or Greater Spotted Woodpecker) (Dendrocopos major), is a bird species of the woodpecker family.


The Great Spotted Woodpecker is 23-26 cm long, with a 38-44 cm wingspan. The upperparts are glossy black, with white on the sides of the face and neck. A black line zigzags from the shoulder halfway across the breast (in some subspecies nearly meeting in the center), then back to the nape; a black stripe, extending from the bill, runs below the eye to meet this latter part of the zigzag line.

On the shoulder is a large white patch and the flight feathers are barred with black and white. The three outer tail feathers are barred; these show when the short stiff tail is outspread, acting as a support in climbing. The underparts are dull white, the abdomen and undertail coverts crimson. The bill is slate black and the legs greenish grey. Males have a crimson spot on the nape, which is absent in females and juvenile birds. In the latter, the top of the head is crimson between the bill and the center of the crown instead. Despite its contrasting plumage, the Great Spotted Woodpecker is often an inconspicuous bird. The large white shoulder patch is the feature that most easily catches the eye.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker has two toes facing forward and two back this is known as zygodactyly.

Confusion in Species[]

They may be confused with the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a much rarer breeding bird in Britain.


When hidden by the foliage, its presence is often advertised by the mechanical drumming, a vibrating rattle, produced by the rapidly repeated blows of strong bill upon a trunk or branch. This is not a dedicated courtship call or challenge, but a signal of 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 naturally producing a louder note than living wood. The call is a sharp quet, quet or a sharp tchack.


These woodpeckers are mainly found in wooded areas, rarely are they found in areas which don't hold reasonably large areas of trees.

They like areas with old trees which they will often nest in.


Woodpeckers have a varied diet eating nuts, seeds, fruits, larvae and insects. Even the chicks of other birds during the spring months.

They can often be seen climbing up the trunk of a tree, listening for the movement of grubs or larvae in the trunk of a tree, once they have located the insect larvae they will then quickly drill a hole in the tree with their specially adapted bills and then hook out the insect with their tounge which can be extended to several inches long and has a barb on the end for hooking the insect grubs.


Males advertise during the breeding season by drumming with their beaks on the trunk of a tree or the branch of a tree. The may even drum on other surfaces such as couragated iron roofs.

They build their nests in a tree, hollowing out their nests in the trunk of the tree in which they will lay their eggs. The nest is located ten feet off the ground with a hole two inches in diameter, the main nest is pear-shaped and located 10 - 12 inches down the trunk of the tree.

Both male and female woodpeckers will incubate the eggs for around sixteen days, there around six eggs. The chicks will fledge after three weeks.