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Great spotted woodpecker

Great spotted woodpecker feeding young by North East WildlifeGreat spotted woodpecker feeding young by North East Wildlife
Scientific name

Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopus major).


Deciduous and coniferous woodland, gardens and parks throughout Britain, except for the far north of Scotland. The great spotted woodpecker is the most common and widespread of the three different types of British woodpecker.


It’s about the same size as a starling (23cm long), with a white chest, black and white wings and a red patch on its belly. Males also have a red patch on the back of the head. The beak is very strong, straight and pointed. 

The great spotted woodpecker can often be spotted clinging in an upright position to a tree trunk. Its feet are very strong and specially adapted to help it cling to bark, with two claws pointing forwards and two pointing backwards. 

In early spring listen for a fast drumming sound coming from high in the trees. Both males and females drum their beak against a dead branch up to ten times a second. They can tap out different messages using different rhythms, either to find a mate or to tell other woodpeckers in the area ‘this is my territory’.


A woodpecker mainly eats the larvae of insects that live in the bark of trees. It pecks at the bark with its beak and uses its stiff tail to give extra support. Sometimes it wedges a hazel nut into a crack in the bark and then cracks it open and eats the kernel. In spring they also eat the eggs and chicks of other birds that make nests in holes in tree trunks. 

Males and females work together to peck out a hole in a tree trunk to make a nest. A woodpecker uses its beak like a hammer (and it has a specially strengthened skull so it doesn’t knock itself out!). The female lays up to 7 white eggs in May or June. She keeps them warm until they hatch and then her mate helps to feed the chicks. 


Woodpeckers sometimes visit garden bird tables. You can help look after them by putting out nuts and seeds to feed birds during the winter when food is scarce.