The Green woodpecker. Picus viridis

The green woodpecker belongs to the Picidae family of the Order Piciformes and placed in the genus Picus. This species is the largest of the three native woodpeckers that are found in Britain. The other two are the Greater spotted and the lesser spotted. It differs greatly in appearance from its smaller contemporaries, it does not share their black and white plumage and its bill is not so sharp chisel shaped.

It does share some of the behaviour of its relatives for instance they do drum but not so fast as the spotted woodpeckers, and they do hang on to vertical tree trunks. However, they differ from their arboreal cousins by being much more at home on the ground. Their upright posture and hopping trait is distinctive in its identification even from a distance.

Green Woodpecker

Photograph courtesy of Andrei Stroe enhanced by Amada 44  CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

Description of the Green woodpecker.

The green woodpecker is 30-36 cm long with a wingspan of 45-51 cm. The plumage of both sexes is green with yellowish rump and red crown. The male also has a black moustachial stripe { the female has a black stripe only.} The red crown is very distinctive. The strong bill is designed for probing the ground and for excavating their nest holes. The powerful feet with long toes and strong talons are used to grip the tree bark. They posses zygodactyl feet, two toes pointing forward and two pointing backwards. The tail feathers are specially stiffened to help in the function of clinging on to the bark and for climbing vertical tree trunks. The main wing and tail feathers are of a sooty black colour.

{ The juvenile lacks the distinctive facial markings of the adult being heavily streaked on the neck and breast. The greenish back is spotted. }

In relation to its body size the wings are of medium length the tail medium length, neck medium. The thick grey black bill is of a medium length the olive green legs are short. The flight is conspicuously undulating . The birds voice is said to sound like laughter that gives rise to the birds alternative common name of yaffle. the cry is far reaching and clear which comprises of between three and twenty notes.


The green woodpecker is seen on the ground regularly, this because its main food source is ants which it flicks up with its long sticky tongue. because of this fact the green woodpecker differs greatly in habitat of the Dendrocopus species a genus which our other two native woodpeckers belong. Although it is found in woodland , they are also encountered on farmland , parks and large gardens { where they are often seen feeding on ants in lawns.}, heaths and coastal dunes.

in such circumstances and because of its exotic looking plumage it is often mistaken for a rare bird species. They look more tropical in appearance than native. They will return time after time day after day if ants are available to them. They eat vast quantities of invertebrates, and this is particularly true when they have young to feed. The adults eat the ants then they regurgitate them for their hungry off spring.

Studies have revealed that these fascinating birds seem to be attracted to humming noises. They are often drawn towards bee hives which they investigate. There is no conclusive evidence that they are after eating these industrious insects it seems that the humming sound alone is enough to feed their curiosity. Old church steeples that have the thin over lapping wooden slates, made from cedar wood,  are also a source of curiosity to these birds. Again it is the" humming " noise caused by the wind as it passes through the slates which seems to attract them.

During January and February food is much harder to locate, however, ant hills will be found, even under snow, but they will supplement their diet by taking insect larvae from under soft and rotting timber. The green woodpecker is usually solitary and they are usually only seen in pairs during the breeding season.

Breeding season of the green woodpecker

Although the birds are rarely seen together during the winter months studies have revealed that two birds may well be in the same locality. The contact calls travel a great distance, thus, although they are seldom seen together each will know where the other bird is in the locality.

During spring the birds will excavate a nest hole for themselves selecting a " soft" area of some large tree. It will peck straight in and then downwards for about a foot {30 cm}, then the shaft will be enlarged to give more room for the eggs.

There is no nest as such except for the debris of their carpentry activities. In a few instances it haunts and breeds in burrows on cliffs instead of trees.

The eggs are pure , polished white and between 5 and 8 are laid during April and May. They take about three weeks to hatch and the helpless young have no down, being completely naked.  The chicks have warty pads on their hocks and hobble about on these not resting on their feet.  They fledge at about 21-24 days. 

Even after leaving the nest they are fed and taught by their parents for several more weeks each parent taking responsibility for half of the brood. 

During this paternal period it is possible to encounter an adult with 2-3  young birds in tow. The young birds begin to disperse by the end of September and early October, and will live a solitary life style until they become old enough to breed themselves. The first winter is a testing time for the young birds and their knowledge of their local area and foraging skills will be paramount to their survival.


The green woodpecker is placed on the Amber list of Conservation Concern, however, long term trends seem to suggest the birds are increasing in number, and this is true in the north of England. The estimated UK population is 24,200 pairs in 2000. { source the BTO }.

Although Amber listed and as such subject to close monitoring there are no immediate concerns.

Incidentally the opposite is true of populations in Wales where there have been worrying declines over the last decade or so. The reasons are not fully understood and work is currently being carried out to try and ascertain as to the reasons this is so. 

Familiar Wild Birds {1800,s}

Conservation updates November 2013

The Bird Atlas of Great Britain and Ireland { 2007-11 } reveals that the Green Woodpecker has become more common in Eastern England and is spreading north to eastern Scotland, However, it has begun to disappear from western Wales.

Reuse of images.

The images on this page may be reused. However, the name of the relevant author must be attributed along with any accompanying license.

ASSOCIATED PAGES. Click on the content banners at the top of this page



Other birds that appear on this site may be viewed by clicking on the individual content banners. { they are all grouped together.

Also see a comprehensive article via the Links banner with notes and observations from past ornithologists and other eminent writers. Green woodpecker {birds of Europe} 

                                    Thank you for visiting