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Home » Flora and Fauna » Birds in the Danube Delta » Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker

The Great Spotted Woodpecker (or Greater Spotted Woodpecker), Dendrocopos major, is a bird species of the woodpecker family (Picidae). It is distributed throughout Europe and northern Asia, and usually resident year-round except in the colder parts of its range. It is not considered a threatened species by the IUCN, being widely distributed and quite common.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker is 23–26 centimetres (9.1–10 in) long, with a 38–44 centimetres (15–17 in) wingspan. The upperparts are glossy black, with white on the sides of the face and neck. A black line zigzags from the shoulder halfway across the breast (in some subspecies nearly meeting in the center), then back to the nape; a black stripe, extending from the bill, runs below the eye to meet this latter part of the zigzag line. On the shoulder is a large white patch and the flight feathers are barred with black and white. The three outer tail feathers are barred; these show when the short stiff tail is outspread, acting as a support in climbing. The underparts are dull white, the abdomen and undertail coverts crimson. The bill is slate black and the legs greenish grey.

Males have a crimson spot on the nape, which is absent in females and juvenile birds. In the latter, the top of the head is crimson between the bill and the center of the crown instead.

Despite its contrasting plumage, the Great Spotted Woodpecker is often an inconspicuous bird. The large white shoulder patch is the feature that most easily catches the eye. When hidden by the foliage, its presence is often advertised by the mechanical drumming, a vibrating rattle, produced by the rapidly repeated blows of strong bill upon a trunk or branch. This is not a dedicated courtship call or challenge, but a signal of either sex to announce its presence. It is audible from a great distance, depending on the wind and the condition of the wood, a hollow bough naturally producing a louder note than living wood. The call is a sharp quet, quet.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker has several living subspecies. The paleosubspecies D. m. submajor lived during the Middle Pleistocene Riss glaciation (250,000 to 300,000 years ago); it was found in Europe south of the ice sheet. It is sometimes treated as a distinct species, but did not differ from the living Great Spotted Woodpecker of Europe except in size; the European subspecies of our time are probably its direct descendants.

The male Great Spotted Woodpecker is almost unmistakable. The only species that are quite similar are the Syrian Woodpecker (D. syriacus) and the White-winged Woodpecker (D. leucopterus). The former differs in the less well-developed zigzag stripe on the neck, which neither reaches as far towards the center of the breast nor meets the black of the nape as it does in Great Spotted Woodpeckers. The latter has a far more extensive white wing patch.

Females can be distinguished from female Syrian Woodpeckers and White-winged Woodpeckers in the same way as males; the female Sind Woodpecker (D. assimilis) looks also similar but does not have the zigzag stripe reaching the nape. Great Spotted Woodpecker females can also be confused with a female White-backed Woodpecker (D. leucotos). However, the latter species lacks the white shoulder patch, having an all-white lower back instead; it also has a less well-developed zigzag stripe on the neck, just like the Syrian Woodpecker. The female Himalayan Woodpecker (D. himalayensis) is also similar, but it can be distinguished by the same characteristics as the female Syrian Woodpecker.

Immature birds resemble the Middle Spotted Woodpecker (D. medius), the male White-backed Woodpecker, the immature Syrian and White-winged Woodpeckers, and male or immature Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers (Picoides minor, formerly also in Dendrocopos). The first of these species has only an angular cheek spot instead of the zigzag stripe, while the White-backed and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers lack the white shoulder patch and have a less well-developed zigzag stripe, as described above. The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker also has no red on the abdomen. White-backed Woodpeckers are also larger, while Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are smaller than immature Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Differences from Syrian and White-winged Woodpeckers are the same as for adults.

The species has recently recolonized Ireland