Green Woodpecker
(Picus viridis)

The Green woodpecker is one of only three types of woodpecker in the UK, the other two being the Great and Lesser spotted woodpeckers. It is the largest woodpecker in the UK with a dense and chunky demeanour; in terms of colour, it is primarily green, as reflected in the name, and features a characteristic red crown and, on the male, a red-coloured moustachial stripe (see comparison of male and female Green woodpeckers below). The tail, unlike other woodpeckers, is somewhat short, and features a subtle yellow-black strip around the edge.

In the UK, they are resident all-year-round and can be observed in most parts of Britain, apart from those northernmost extremities in the Scottish Highlands & Islands, and all of Northern Ireland.

Green woodpeckers are mostly solitary creatures, and may only roost close to each other, rather than together. Pairs of Green woodpeckers bond in March, and can be alone for most of the remainder of the year. They breed in late-April, and it is the duty of both sexes to incubate the eggs.

Green woodpecker - Picus viridis

They are different from the other UK-resident woodpecker counterparts in that their bills are somewhat soft, perfect for chipping away at old, rotting wood. By extension, they are incapable of drumming to communicate, a common behaviour among Great spotted woodpeckers.

The current UK population of Green woodpeckers, according to the RSPB, is relatively static at 52,000 breeding pairs, although there is a well-known current downwards population trajectory, partly attributed to loss of woodland and heath land.

Green woodpecker diet

Green woodpeckers avidly consume ants; lots of ants. In fact, they spend such an incredible amount of time on the ground searching for their favourite food that, according to the RSPB, you will often find them rummaging around in parks and on garden lawns – short grass provides the ideal feeding grounds for Green woodpeckers. They will also eat caterpillars and beetles, and have a specially-adapted long “sticky tongue” which serves the purpose of extracting bugs from the cracks and crevices of old, rotting trees.

An ideal niche, which conjures up the image of Darwin’s gradually lengthening Finch bills from the Galapagos Islands.

Describe the tongue of a Woodpecker,” from Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks on his list of things to do.

Nesting behaviour

Green woodpeckers prefer to nest in the holes of old deciduous trees (oak, beech and willow), whose location is nearby feeding grounds with delights such as ants and caterpillars. It is commonplace for Green woodpeckers to hollow out and extract the insides within a circumference of 60mm x 75mm of a rotting trunk, the inside of which is dug to a depth of 400mm (*Wikipedia). Interestingly, the arduous task of excavation is performed by the male alone and is conducted over a lengthy period of 15-30 days. This work-intense method is often worth the effort, as a hole crafted by the hands of a Green woodpecker can last as long as 10 years.

In terms of breeding, Green woodpeckers begin their breeding process late on in April and produce, on average, 2 clutches per season. These clutches each yield between 4 to 9 eggs, and continue into an incubation period which lasts around 19 days before fledging for approximately 25 days.

Green woodpecker and human culture

Green woodpeckers do not feature too prominently among the annals of human culture and history; yet, they do have their moments. Take Professor Yaffle, for instance, whose character from Bagpuss is loosely based on the Green woodpecker; and, of course, those of you who drink Woodpecker cider, or remember drinking it, should be able to recall the brand’s logo, which uses the Green woodpecker as its main image.

Green woodpecker - Picus viridis


Green woodpeckers are part of the Picidae family, which consists of wrynecks and other woodpeckers, which, in the UK, only number three in total (Great spotted woodpeckers, Lesser spotted woodpeckers, Green woodpeckers).

The naming convention, from Greek and Latin, is quite straightforward with pikos meaning “woodpecker” and viridis meaning “green”: quite an uninteresting direct translation, but nonetheless to the point.

What’s the difference between a male and female Green woodpecker?

The difference between male and females Green woodpecker is quite easy to identify. Simply refer to the red moustachial stripe on the lower cheek, and you’ve found the male. Despite this, almost all other features of the two birds are identical.

Male Green woodpecker - Picus viridis

Male Green woodpecker

Female Green woodpecker - Picus viridis

Female Green woodpecker

Try the interactive Green woodpecker

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