Friday, 23 December 2011

Picid in Focus: Greyish Piculet

Greyish Piculet Picumnus granadensis.This tiny picid (9-10cm in length) is endemic to Andean forests in Colombia. Photo of this female (males have some yellow spotting on the crown) taken in the Cauca Valley by Trevor Ellery of PROAVES

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Picid in Focus: Powerful Woodpecker

Male Powerful Woodpecker Campephilus pollens. Female lacks red crown. Photo taken in November 2011 at the Colibri del Sol Reserve, Colombia, by Trevor Ellery of PROAVES

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Picid in Focus: Ecuadorian Piculet

Ecuadorian Piculet Picumnus sclateri. Restricted in range, it is found only on the western slope of the Andes in Ecuador and north-west Peru. Photo of this female (male has yellow spotting on forecrown) taken by Pete Ferrera in southern Ecuador, November 2011.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Sounds: Andaman Woodpecker

This species is endemic to the Andaman Islands (India) in the Bay of Bengal. It is not uncommon in the islands but threatened by general development and clearance of its forest habitat.

Calls and drumming of a pair of Dryocopus hodgei

Recorded on Havelock Island, Andaman Islands, India, in November 2011, by Gerard Gorman.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Genus: Picumnus

This genus consists of 26 piculet species. These include some of the smallest picids in the world. Photo of a male Lafresnaye's Piculet Picumnus lafresnayi taken by Pete Ferrera in Southern Ecuador, November 2011.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Picid in Focus: Black-rumped Flameback

Female Black-rumped Flameback Dinopium benghalense. Puncticolle race. This is a female as the fore-crown is black dotted white and only the hind-crown and crest red. Chennai, India, November 2011, Gerard Gorman.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Picid in Focus: Bearded Woodpecker

Male Bearded Woodpecker Dendropicos namaquus. This is the largest woodland-dwelling woodpecker in Africa. Rather shy, when disturbed or directly approached, invariably flying some distance before alighting again. Often first located by virtue of its rather distinctive contact tapping and drumming. Outside the breeding season usually seen foraging alone. Sometimes placed in a a separate genus ThripiasPhoto taken in South Africa by Warwick Tarboton.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Imperial Woodpecker on Film

An article in the The Auk (128 (4): 671-677, 2011) entiltled FILM DOCUMENTATION OF THE PROBABLY EXTINCT IMPERIAL WOODPECKER (CAMPEPHILUS IMPERIALIS) is essential reading for all picid enthusiasts. The Imperial Woodpecker of Mexico was the largest woodpecker in the world until it became extinct (probably) in the late 20th century. This paper describes a recently discovered 16-mm colour film of the species taken in 1956 by the late William L. Rhein. More on this story and paper here:

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Woodpeckers as keystone species

Animals that play important roles in the lives of others in an ecological community are known as keystone species. Many woodpeckers are keystones, as some birds, mammals and invertebrates benefit from the cavities that they create. Indeed, some species can be highly dependent upon woodpeckers for nesting or denning sites. Birds and mammals that do not excavate holes themselves, but use those made by others for nesting or roosting, are called secondary cavity-usersIn some cases the local populations of secondary-cavity using birds can even be determined by the availability of woodpecker holes. Birds that use woodpecker cavities include titmice, flycatchers, hirundines, ducks, kestrels, owls, doves, parrots, trogons and even large species of toucans and hornbills. Photo: Tawny Owl Strix aluco in a Black Woodpecker hole in Hungary (Laszlo Becsy).

Monday, 17 October 2011

Sounds: Iberian Green Woodpecker

The sharpei race of Eurasian Green Woodpecker Picus viridis may warrant full species status. It occurs in Spain, Portugal and the very south of France, and in some of the literature is already called Iberian Woodpecker or Iberian Green Woodpecker.

Contact call of Picus viridis sharpei

Recorded in Navarra, Spain, in October 2011, by Gerard Gorman.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Picid in Focus: Knysna Woodpecker

Knysna Woodpecker Campethera notata is endemic to South Africa. The sexes differ slightly with males (as in this photo) having an all-red-crown and nape and a red malar stripe, whilst female has red only on the hind-crown and an indistinct black malar. It is classed as 'near threatened' due to having a restricted range. The species is found in coastal, lowland, evergreen woodlands, scrub, bush and thickets, especially with euphorbia and milkwood, mainly along the Eastern Cape but also northwards into southern KwaZulu-Natal. Photo by Warwick Tarboton.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Habitats: Bamboo - Bambuseae

There are around 1450 species of bamboo (an evergreen member of the grass family) around the world. Many occur in tropical regions, mainly in SE Asia but also the Americas and Africa, and some in temperate regions. As a habitat for picids, bamboo may not immediately spring to mind, however many piculets and some true woodpeckers forage and nest in bamboo. Others, such as the appropriately named Bamboo Woodpecker Gecinulus viridis of south-east Asia, specialise in this habitat. For many species bamboo is also a favoured substrate upon which to drum as it resonates very well, especially when mature or dead. Photo taken in northern Malaysia, Gerard Gorman.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Picid in Focus: Lewis's Woodpecker

At about 27cm in length, Lewis's Woodpecker Melanerpes lewis is the largest member of the genus. It is a heavy-looking, dark but handsome, long-tailed, long-winged picid. Most of head, upper-parts and wings are dark green, it has a red face, a grey nape, collar and chest, and a pinkish breast and belly. In flight it looks particularly dark. The sexes are almost identical, not exhibiting sexual dimorphism in colour. Juveniles lacks the red face and grey collar and are less pink below. Photo by Steve Shunk, Oregon, USA.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Picid in Focus: Arizona Woodpecker

Arizona Woodpecker Picoides arizonae was until fairly recently regarded as a race of Strickland's Woodpecker. It is polytypic with 2 subspecies recognised: nominate arizonae occurs in south-east Arizona into north-western Mexico and fraterculus in western Mexico, southwards to southern Sinaloa and Durango. It often inhabits oakwoods. Photo of this male (note the red hindcrown which female lacks) by Pete Ferrera taken in May 2002.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Picid In Focus: Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Golden-fronted Woodpecker Melanerpes aurifrons is a bird of dry open woodlands, mesquite brush, also pecan plantations. It ranges across north-Central America, from the southern USA, south through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. 12 races are recognised. Photo by Steve Shunk, USA.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Genus: Geocolaptes

The genus Geocolaptes includes just one species Geocolaptes olivaceus Ground Woodpecker. There are two races olivaceus and prometheus. It is endemic to South Africa and lives in open rocky uplands, often devoid of trees. It is also a social species living in family groups. Photo taken at Rooiels, South Africa by Warwick Tarboton.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Picid In Focus: Red-throated Wryneck Jynx ruficollis

Red-throated Wryneck is one of only two species in the genus Jynx. It is also sometimes called Rufous-necked, Red-breasted or Red-necked Wryneck. As is the case with its close Eurasian relative, this species does not excavate its own nesting holes but rather uses the holes of other picids or natural cavities. It occurs in sub-Saharan Africa and is a polytypic species with 3 races usually recognised. Photo taken by Warwick Tarboton at Wakkerstroom, South Africa.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Picid In Focus: Streak-breasted Woodpecker Picus viridanus (2)

Here is another shot of the same male Streak-breasted Woodpecker shown below (photographed at Air Hitam Dalam, mainland Penang, Malaysia, by Tan Choo Eng in August 2011). The streaked throat and upper chest show very well here. 

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Picid In Focus: Streak-breasted Woodpecker Picus viridanus

This typical Picus species is very similar in plumage to Laced Woodpecker Picus vittatus. Indeed, unless good views are obtained these two species can be hard to separate. This male (note red crown) Streak-breasted Woodpecker was photographed at Air Hitam Dalam, mainland Penang, Malaysia, by Tan Choo Eng in August 2011. Note the streaked throat and upper chest (Laced has a plain, unmarked buff-olive throat).

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Picid In Focus: Buff-necked Woodpecker female

This south-east Asian species Meiglyptes tukki is polytypic with five subspecies recognised: nominate tukki (very south of Myanmar, peninsula Thailand and Malaysia, Sumatra and some adjacent islands and northern Borneo), infuscatus (Nias Island off north-west Sumatra), batu (Batu Island, off western Sumatra), pulonis (Banggi Island, off northern Borneo) and percnerpes (southern Borneo). The sexes are very similar: male has a red malar stripe which female lacks. This female tukki race was snapped at Bukit Wang, Jitra, Kedah, Peninsula Malaysia, August 2011, Gerard Gorman.

Monday, 8 August 2011

New Book on the Black Woodpecker Published

I'd like to announce that my new book The Black Woodpecker - A monograph on Dryocopus martius is now out. ISBN-13: 978-84-96553-79-8. Published by Lynx Edicions. More details can be found on their website at Black Woodpecker monograph

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Status: Great Slaty Woodpecker - Vulnerable

This magnificent species Mulleripicus pulverulentus is the biggest picid in the Old World. It occurs in south-east Asia from the Himalayas to Indonesia. It is a social, gregarious woodpecker which forages in extended family parties of from 2 to 12 individuals, some of which also have roles as helpers at the nest. It's conservation status was changed from Least Concern to Vulnerable in 2010 after it became clear that a drastic decline in numbers had occurred in recent decades. This was mainly due to the loss of primary forests in some parts of its range and it is not inconceivable that this decline has been even more severe than estimated. Thanks to Martjan Lammertink for this fine photo: for more see PicidPics. 

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Conservation: Helmeted Woodpecker Dryocopus galeatus

FUNDING NEEDED ! Although rare and declining, the Helmeted Woodpecker can still be saved if the old forests that it prefers are conserved and if forest conditions for it are improved in logged forests. To find out the ecological needs of the Helmeted Woodpecker and to implement habitat restoration for it and associated old-forest species, a five year conservation project is now being launched by Martjan Lammertink. It is a joint project by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Research Council of Argentina (CONICET), and the ParanĂ¡ Pine Project, a local NGO in Misiones province, Argentina. The project needs funds to cover radio tracking equipment and field expenses and to pay field assistants and Argentinean students. Fundraising from foundations for a little known Neotropical woodpecker is hard, and Martjan would very much appreciate donations from readers of this blog for the project. This photo of a female was taken in the Cruce Caballero Provincial Park, Misiones, Argentina by Martjan Lammertink: see PicidPicsFor more information, or to donate, please contact Martjan at:

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Picid in Focus: Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris

Ladder-backed Woodpecker is found in the south-west of the USA and Central America.  It is polytypic with 8 subspecies recognised. Desert-dwelling it replaces the closely related Nuttall’s Woodpecker in arid habitats where it forages in trees, bushes, cacti and on the ground for insects. It also eats cactus fruits. Photo of this female (note the black crown, males have red) taken by by Steve Shunk in the USA.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Status: Helmeted Woodpecker - Vulnerable

This species (on average the smallest of the Dryocopus) is one of the rarest woodpeckers in the Neotropics. It occurs only in South America's Atlantic Forest, one of the world’s most endangered wooded ecosystems, and has seriously declined in number due to loss of habitat. Today probably less than 12% of the Atlantic Forest region remains. The global population estimate is 2500-9900 and it is regarded as Vulnerable. This recent article is essential reading: Lammertink, M., A. Bodrati & R. E. Santos (2011): Helmeted Woodpecker Dryocopus galeatus: a little-known Atlantic forest endemic. Neotropical Birding 8: 45-51. The photo here of an adult male Helmeted Woodpecker Dryocopus galeatus. Cruce Caballero Provincial Park, Misiones, Argentina, was taken in August 2009 by Martjan Lammertink: see PicidPics.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Picid in Focus: Williamson's Sapsucker Sphyrapicus thyroideus

Most Williamson's Sapsuckers are migratory, breeding in the north of the USA and Canada and wintering further south as far as Mexico. It is also one of the most sexually dimorphic woodpeckers in terms of plumage, with the sexes visually very different. Males are well marked and coloured and females much duller. Photo of this male taken by Steve Shunk, Oregon, USA.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Picid in Focus: Yucatan Woodpecker Melanerpes pygmaeus

Male Yucatan Woodpecker (note the red on the crown, female has red only on the nape). This resident species occurs in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, Belize and Guanaja off mainland Honduras. There are 3 races. Relatively little is known about its biology. Photo by Pete Ferrera taken in Mexico in January 2008.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Monday, 20 June 2011

Literature: The Ivory-billed Woodpecker

This classic monograph on Campephilus principalis by James T. Tanner was first published in 1942 by the National Audubon Society, USA. An unabridged edition (cover shown here) was published by Dover Publications Inc., New York, in 2003. 

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Picid in Focus: Golden-olive Woodpecker Colaptes rubiginosus

This very variable species is currently composed of 19 races across central and south America. It has had a rather confusing taxonomic history, formerly placed in the Piculus genus and with some races regarded as species in their own right.  

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Literature: The Travails of Two Woodpeckers: Ivory-bills & Imperials

This book examines the history of the declines of two of the world's largest woodpeckers: Campephilus imperialis and C. principalis. The causes of decline and the question of whether these birds are extinct or not is discussed in detail. The authors (Noel F. R. Snyder, David E. Brown and Kevin B. Clark) take the view that these species are sadly extinct. Published in 2009 by the University of New Mexico Press, USA.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Picid in Focus: Brown-fronted Woodpecker Dendrocopos auriceps

This small "pied" woodpecker is found from in eastern Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, through northern India to eastern Nepal. It lives in uplands, in both coniferous and deciduous forests, in woods, parkland and even urban areas. It is often locally rather common. It is monotypic with no races declared though birds vary in size and colouration in a clinal manner. 

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Picid in Focus: Lineated Woodpecker Dryocopus lineatus

This large species (30-36cm in length) ranges across Central and South America where it is locally fairly common. It occurs in a range of open forested habitats from humid and dry forests to mangroves, from lowlands to mountains. It is often rather vocal. Photo of nominate race by Szabolcs Kokay, Trinidad, 2010.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Sounds: Great Spotted Woodpecker

Nestlings in hole and adult outside

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major

Recorded in May 2011 in Hungary, by Gerard Gorman.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Picid in Focus: Hoffman's Woodpecker Melanerpes hoffmannii

This monotypic species is restricted to Central America, in Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. It is, however, often locally common there in drier, open, lightly wooded habitats. It is also often seen and heard in and around settlements. This bird photographed in Costa Rica by Robert Tuff.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Picid in Focus: Yellow-crowned Woodpecker Dendrocopos mahrattensis

This small "pied" woodpecker occurs in a range of habitats, mostly in arid lowland areas, on the Indian subcontinent with isolated population elsewhere in Sri Lanka Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. 

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Sounds: Eurasian Wryneck

Song of a territorial male (Common Chaffinch also calling)

Recorded in April 2011, Starigrad Paklenica, Croatia, by Gerard Gorman.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Picid in Focus: Buff-spotted Woodpecker Campethera nivosa.

This African species is a forest-dweller and an ant-eater that invariably forages low-down in trees, bushes and undergrowth on finer twigs and plant stems. Pairs sometimes excavate their nest-hole in a termitarium. It is polytypic with 4 subspecies recognised: nominate nivosa, maxima, poensis and herberti. This bird photographed in the Gambia in 2010 by Vaughan Ashby.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Picid in Focus: White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos

This species ranges from continental Europe eastwards to Japan. There are 10 races, some very distinct. It is uncommon, if not rare, in western Europe but more common and widespread in the east. White-backed Woodpecker is a specialist, inhabiting mature forests with much dead and decaying wood and feeding mainly on wood-boring beetles. This photo of a male nominate race was taken in Austria by Thomas Hochebner.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Picid in Focus: Levaillant's Woodpecker Picus vaillantii

This monotypic species is resident in mainly mature montane forests of pine, oak and cedar in north Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia). It was formally considered a race of Eurasian Green Woodpecker. In plumage it is most like Iberian race of that species. This male (note all-red crown, both sexes have black malar stripes) photographed in Morocco in February 2011 by Vaughan Ashby.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Picid in Focus: Golden-tailed Woodpecker Campethera abingoni

This typical Campethera species inhabits a wide variety of woodlands in sub-saharan Africa, mainly south of the equator. It occurs in Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zaire, Angola, Namibia and South Africa, with isolated populations elsewhere including Senegambia. Six races are recognised. This bird photographed in the Gambia in 2010 by Vaughan Ashby.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Habitats: Taiga Forest

The Taiga is a belt of forest that runs across the boreal (sub-Arctic) latitudes of the northern Hemisphere. Coniferous trees dominate in the Taiga with various spruce, larch, fir and pine typical. Deciduous trees, which are more common in the primary and secondary succession stages of growth, are alder, aspen and birch. In Eurasia typical woodpeckers of this habitat include Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker. In North America Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers are typical. 

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Genus: Campethera

This genus is composed of 12 species, all found in sub-Saharan Africa. All are greenish on the upperparts. Though not truly terrestrial the Campethera readily forage on the ground for termites and the like and their bodily structure and bill reflects this. This female Bennett's Woodpecker C.bennettii was photographed in the Kruger NP, South Africa, by Gill Marven.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Picid in Focus: Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius

This range of this species falls almost totally within the Western Palearctic. There are 4 races but they do not differ greatly in plumage. The sexes are not very dimorphic, both having red crowns, and are often being hard to separate in the field. It occurs in deciduous woodlands, particularly those with mature oaks. Photo taken in Austria by Thomas Hochebner.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Sounds: Magellanic Woodpecker

The double rap is an instrumental signal comparable to the drumming done by many other woodpecker. At the end of the recording there is a strong, deliberate flapping of wings as the bird flew away. Click this link to play.

Magellanic Woodpecker Campephilus magellanicus: double rap

Recorded in December 2010 in Argentina, by Gerard Gorman.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Picid in Focus: Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major

This species ranges across Eurasia from Ireland and Britain eastwards to Japan. It also occurs on the Canary Islands and parts of North Africa. There are 14 races, some very distinct. It is by far the most common, widespread and familiar woodpecker in Europe. An adaptable and generalist species, it occurs in a wide range of wooded habitats, natural and man-made, from mature forests to parks and gardens. Photo of a male (note the red nape patch), Austria, by Thomas Hochebner.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Picid in Focus: Fine-spotted Woodpecker Campethera punctuligera

This small picid occurs in western and central Africa, in SW Mauretania, Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Chad, Sudan, Ivort Coast, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and Zaire. It inhabits lightly wooded savanna and open grasslands with acacia where it mainly feeds on ants and termites. There are two races, nominate punctuligera  across most of the range and balia in south Sudan and north-eastern Zaire. This female was photographed in the Gambia in 2010 by Vaughan Ashby.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Nomenclature: the problem of vernacular names

A universal agreement amongst ornithologists on which taxonomy to use in the classification of birds still eludes us. Furthermore, there is still disagreement on which English vernacular names to use and this is valid for the woodpeckers, too. This problem is partly due to the global diversity of the English language and a standardization of names does not seem to be on the horizon. Indeed, total conformity in English nomenclature is probably unrealistic. The solution for most when discussing the picids (to establish exactly which species is being discussed) is to refer to the scientific name of the species (often called the Latin name, though strictly speaking that is incorrect) as there is more (but not total) conformity in the use of scientific names. There are may examples of woodpeckers having more than one English name as even a brief perusal of the literature will reveal. For example, in India the Flamebacks are also often called "Goldenbacks". A particularly confusing example is "Grey-headed" versus "Grey-faced" Woodpecker. Most European literature, and the vast majority of ornithologists and birders, refer to the Eurasian Picus canus as Grey-headed Woodpecker, however the African species Dendropicos spodocephalus is also widely called Grey-headed Woodpecker (the IOC have named it Eastern Grey Woodpecker). Photo of Grey-faced Woodpecker, Austria, Thomas Hochebner.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Genus: Chrysocolaptes

The Chrysocolaptes genus contains just 2 species. The first, Greater Flameback Chrysocolaptes lucidus has 13 races across SE Asia. White-naped Woodpecker C. festivus has 2 races, one in India and one in Sri Lanka.  Photo: Male Greater Flameback just taken off from a tree in the Corbett NP, Northern India, Gerard Gorman.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Picid in Focus: Rufous-bellied Woodpecker Dendrocopos hyperythrus

This handsome species is found in upland mixed and broadleaved forests in SE Asia from Pakistan through northern India, Nepal, Burma, parts of China and south into Thailand and Indochina. There are four races and some populations are migratory. It is also rather confiding and approachable. Photo: Female marshalli race, Pangot, Uttarakhand, India, Gerard Gorman.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Picid in Focus: Brown-backed Woodpecker Dendropicos obsoletus

This small woodpecker is found in the bushy and scrubby savanna belt of sub-Saharan Africa in Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Zaire, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. It also occurs in semi-urban areas. Four races are recognised: obsoletus, heuglini, ingens and crateri. They differ in size, darkness of the mantle and back and amount of streaking on the underparts. Photo: Male nominate race, Gambia, Vaughan Ashby.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Genus: Dendropicos

The Dendropicos genus comprises 15 small species that are all found in forests and woodlands in sub-Saharan Africa. All are basically green-coloured on the upper parts with pale underparts often barred. Sexual dimorphism is shown in plumage with males having red on the crown or nape which females lack. Some species, eg. Abysinian Woodpecker, Stierling's Woodpecker, Elliot's Woodpecker, have restricted ranges are are rather understudied. Photo: Male Cardinal Woodpecker Dendropicos fuscescens, Gambia, Vaughan Ashby.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Picid in Focus: Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker Dendrocopos macei.

This is a polytypic species with 5 races (macei, westermani, andamanensis, longipennis and analis). It is a typical arboreal, medium-sized 'pied' woodpecker, some 18-19cm long. The male has a red crown (as in the photo here) and the female a black crown. It occurs in parts of the Indian subcontinent and SE Asia where it is locally not uncommon in open mixed woodlands, forest edges and wooded cultivated land. Photo: Male Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Northern India, Szabolcs Kokay.