Great spotted woodpecker

Great spotted woodpecker

©Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Great spotted woodpecker

©Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Great spotted woodpecker

©Gillian Day

Great spotted woodpecker

Scientific name: Dendrocopos major
The 'drumming' of a great spotted woodpecker is a familiar sound of our woodlands, parks and gardens. It is a form of communication and is mostly used to mark territories and to display in spring.

Species information


Length: 21-23cm
Wingspan: 36cm
Weight: 85g
Average lifespan: 2 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Green under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2021).

When to see

January to December


The great spotted woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker. It nests in holes that it excavates in trees in broadleaved woodlands, large parks and gardens. It has a distinctive, bouncing flight, but is mostly likely to be heard, rather than seen, as it 'drums' away at a tree trunk during its breeding displays. Great spotted woodpeckers eat insects and larvae, probing tree trunks with their extremely sticky tongues to extract them from their nests. In autumn and winter, they will switch to eating berries and nuts, and will visit peanut feeders in gardens.

How to identify

The great spotted woodpecker is black and white, with white shoulder patches and red underneath the tail. Males have a red patch at the back of the head. Only likely to be confused with the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which is much smaller.


Widespread, although absent from northern Scotland and most of Ireland.

Did you know?

In the last few years, the great spotted woodpecker has started to nest in Ireland for the first time.


Great spotted woodpecker by Tom Hibbert