Identify UK woodpeckers

Great spotted woodpecker

©Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Identify woodpeckers

What woodpecker have I seen?

There are three species of British woodpecker - here's how to tell them apart.


Illustration by Corinne Welch


Illustration by Corinne Welch

Green woodpecker

With its brightly coloured feathers, the green woodpecker looks a bit like a big parrot. It’s our largest species, but hardly ever drums. Instead, green woodpeckers communicate with a loud call that sounds like a crazy laugh and is known as a ‘yaffle’. The green woodpecker is olive-green, with a yellow rump, red crown and black around the face. Males have a red 'moustache' edged by black, but females have an all-black moustache.

Great spotted woodpecker

Illustration by Corinne Welch

Great spotted woodpecker

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. Great spots are our most common woodpeckers and the best drummers by a long way. They beat their beaks against hollow branches or tree trunks at a stunning 40 hits per second. 

lesser spotted woodpecker

Illustration by Corinne Welch

Lesser spotted woodpecker

This is Britain’s smallest woodpecker by far – it’s barely bigger than a sparrow! Males are black and white, with a red crown cap, and females are plain black and white. They both have a distinctive white ladder marking down their black back. It’s our rarest as well and only lives in England and Wales. Listen out for their drum solos in spring – they may be quieter than the great spot’s, but they last longer.

Two great spotted woodpeckers perched on a mossy log, with a male in the foreground recognisable by the red patch on his nape

Great spotted woodpeckers © Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

Where to see woodpeckers

Discover some of the best nature reserves for seeing woodpeckers.

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A great spotted woodpecker pecking an ice covered mossy branch.

Great spotted woodpecker © Peter Cairns/2020VISION

The woodland drummers

Find out more about the drumming of woodpeckers.

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Red squirrel

Bertie Gregory/2020VISION

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