explore the beauty of a colorful and commonly found woodpecker with the great spotted woodpecker. learn about its habitat, behaviors, and striking appearance.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker: The Most Commonly Found Colorful Woodpecker

GardenBy May 27, 2024

The Great Spotted Woodpecker: The Most Commonly Found Colorful Woodpecker

Woodpeckers are fascinating birds known for their unique characteristics. Among them, the Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) stands out as the most commonly found and colorful woodpecker species. This article will introduce you to the Great Spotted Woodpecker and its distinctive features.

Who is the Great Spotted Woodpecker?

The Great Spotted Woodpecker belongs to the family Picidae, a group of birds recognized for their powerful claws and distinctive drumming behavior. With a presence dating back approximately 20 million years, the Great Spotted Woodpecker is a sedentary bird widely distributed throughout Europe. It is known for its vibrant plumage, which combines black, red, and white colors.

The male and female Great Spotted Woodpeckers have similar appearances, with the major difference being a bright red patch on the male’s neck, while the female’s neck is black. Their upperparts and wings are predominantly black, with a white shoulder patch. The head features a black crown, a beige forehead, and white cheeks. The belly is white, but the lower part is a vibrant red.

This woodpecker species has a powerful, pointy, and black beak, well-defined dark eyes, and strong gray legs with sharp and curved claws. Their feet are unique, with two forward-facing and two backward-facing toes, which enables them to tightly grip tree trunks.

An Arboreal Bird

The Great Spotted Woodpecker is exclusively arboreal and depends on trees throughout its life. It uses trees for feeding, nesting, and various other activities. While it is a solitary bird for most of the year, it accepts the presence of a partner during the breeding season in spring. Once the unique annual brood has fledged, the woodpecker returns to solitary living.

This species predominantly inhabits forests and wooded areas, including hedges, orchards, parks, and urban gardens. Their strong toes allow them to climb trees effortlessly, making it possible to observe them year-round. However, they are more often heard than seen, as they deliberately remain hidden within the forests they inhabit.

Diet: Tree-Dwelling Variety

The Great Spotted Woodpecker has a varied diet, primarily seeking food within trees, trunks, and high branches. It uses its powerful beak to tap the bark, while its long and sticky tongue helps retrieve insects and their larvae from pre-drilled holes. Their menu includes insects and their larvae during the summer, and during the winter, they feed on pine seeds, nuts, and seeds of various trees.

The woodpecker has the ability to suck tree sap and occasionally preys on nestling birds, particularly small cavity-nesting species like tits. However, this behavior is less common than often assumed.


Great Spotted Woodpeckers reach sexual maturity by their second year. The mating season usually starts in December and consists of elaborate courtship displays, including wing beating, feather fluffing, tail displays, hiding, calling, and drumming. These displays are important for attracting a mate and establishing territories.

The male takes the lead in nest-building, excavating a trunk or a large branch at a height of over 4 meters. They create a deep cavity measuring approximately 35 cm in length, 35 cm in width, and with an entrance hole of 5-6 cm in diameter. The female lays 4-7 white eggs, which both the male and female take turns incubating for 10-14 days. After hatching, the chicks remain in the nest and are fed by both parents until they fledge at around 21-23 days old.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker: A Gardener’s Ally

Despite potentially annoying drumming sounds, the Great Spotted Woodpecker plays a beneficial role in gardening. By feeding on insects and larvae found within trees, they contribute to the control of pests that may damage garden plantations. Contrary to common belief, they primarily excavate dead trees and are not responsible for damaging healthy ones.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker is widespread and not considered a threatened species. However, its population has been declining in certain regions of Southeast Asia.

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I'm Jennifer. My hands are often covered in soil, and my heart is full of passion for nature. Through my writings, I share my personal gardening journeys, tips, and the joy of cultivating both plants and a community of fellow garden lovers. Every plant I grow adds a story to my life, and I love sharing those tales with my readers.