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What is a Green Woodpecker?

Carol Kindle
Carol Kindle

The green woodpecker (Picus viridis) is native to Europe and Western Asia and is known for its bright green top feathers. Unlike other woodpecker species, the green woodpecker feeds primarily on the ground and only occasionally in trees. It is the largest of the woodpeckers found in Europe and it measures about 12.6 inches (32cm) in length and can weigh up to 0.5 lbs (220g).

Widely distributed throughout Europe, the green woodpecker can be found in large numbers in France, Spain, Germany, and England. It is not found in Ireland or Scotland, but it does live in the northern parts of Africa. Open woodlands, lawns, and gardens are the primary habitats of the green woodpecker.

Green woodpeckers eat earthworms.
Green woodpeckers eat earthworms.

Its green coloring allows this woodpecker to remain hidden from view while on the ground feeding on ants. It also feeds on other insects, earthworms, insect larvae, and occasionally fruit. Its long tongue and sharp bill makes it easier to dig in the ground for food.

In addition to its bright green upper feathers, the green woodpecker has a distinctive red crown on the top of its head. It also has a long black bill with a black ring surrounding each eye. Feathers on the rear end of this woodpecker species are yellowish-green and are most visible when the woodpecker takes flight. This type of bird has an average wingspan of 16.5 inches (42cm).

The male and female green woodpeckers are slightly different in appearance. Males have a rectangular red patch beneath the eyes, while in the females this patch is black. A very distinctive call similar to a laugh helps this woodpecker mark its territory.

Pairing of males and females occurs only for breeding, which usually begins during early spring. First a nest must be carved out of the bark of a tree. The male takes on this task and it can take up to a month to complete the nest. After mating, the female can lay up to seven white oval eggs. These are incubated in the nest by both the male and female woodpecker for about three weeks.

Chicks remain in the nest and are cared for by both parents for another three weeks. After this time, the chicks begin feeding on their own. The juveniles have green upper feathers with spots and their underbellies are gray instead of yellow. Once old enough, the woodpeckers separate and live alone until the next breeding season.

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Discussion Comments


Just had one digging around in front garden in West Moors, Dorset. Seems to have come long way from Scotland.


Green Woodpeckers *are* found in Scotland. I was watching a pair in the woods behind Loch Cote near Linlithgow yesterday. They first colonized Scotland in 1950 and are now found as far north as Aberdeen. There are none in Ireland, however.

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    • Green woodpeckers eat earthworms.
      By: Henrik Larsson
      Green woodpeckers eat earthworms.