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Nominate subspecies: length 28â€“33 cm (11â€“13 in), wingspan 38â€“40 cm, weight 125â€“200 g
Green wings and mantle; dull yellow-green rump; tail blackish-brown; head mostly pure grey; breast and belly slightly green-tinged grey. Narrow black moustacial stripe, narrow black lores (but not black behind eyes), and eyes are dark. Bill grey, often with a yellow-tinged base; legs dark grey.
The male has a small red area from the peak of the crown towards the bill. The female is pure grey here.
See also Subspecies, below, for the extensive infraspecific variation.
Main breeding range lies from Europe east to Sakhalin, Hokkaido, throughout much of China, the Himalayas and southeast China south to Vietnam.
In Europe breeds in southern Scandinavia and central and eastern Europe south to northern Greece and eastwards to the Urals. Also has a patchy distribution further west breeding in west and central France, Luxembourg and central and southern Germany, northern Switzerland, northern Italy and more widely in Austria.
Recently found to be breeding in northeastern and western Turkey. In the east of range there are isolated populations in north-east India, on Taiwan and Hainan, and the mountains of Malaysia and Sumatra.
Mainly resident but short-distance dispersal common and altitudinal movements recorded. Very rarely seen outside breeding range but has been recorded in the Spanish Pyrenees, the Netherlands and Turkey, and in March 1992 reported in Circeo National Park, Italy, well south of known Italian range.
11 subspecies are recognised by Clements and IOC, listed below under the three species into which BirdLife International divide it:
Picus canus group (Grey-headed Woodpecker; northern Eurasia)
P. c. canus - northern and central Europe to western Siberia
P. c. jessoensis - eastern Siberia to north-eastern China, Korea and northern Japan
Picus guerini group (Black-naped Woodpecker; upland southern and eastern Asia)
Black crown and nape with red forecrown in males, black crown and nape in females; more strongly green-grey underparts; wings green in Chinese subspecies, tinged yellowish-green in Himalayan subspecies, and increasing orangey-brown toned in Indochinese subspecies.
P. c. kogo - central China
P. c. guerini - eastern China
P. c. sobrinus - south-eastern China and north-eastern Vietnam
Grey-headed Woodpecker occurs in diverse woodlands including coniferous taiga forest, temperate deciduous woodland and subtropical forest, bamboo groves. Where both occur usually found in more upland areas than Green Woodpecker. In Scandinavia found in coniferous forest mixed with aspen but in central Europe found in deciduous and riparian forest, small woods in farmland, parks and large gardens; in Balkans also in mixed mountain forests. Black-naped Woodpecker and Sumatran Woodpecker occur in middle to higher elevation (900â€“2600 m altitude) montane forests.
Like other species of Picus, often feeds on the ground, usually solitary. Though the diet consists mostly of ants, also takes other food sources and will come to bird feeders in winter, taking peanuts and suet.