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Black Woodpecker - BirdForum Opus

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Photo © by birdimage
Berlicum, Netherlands, March 2008
Dryocopus martius


45–55 cm (17½-21½ in)

  • Glossy black plumage
  • White eye (or more precisely iris); most if not all birds have a black spot on the iris that can make the pupil look tear-shaped or bar-shaped.
  • Bill: large greyish-white (5cm) dagger-shaped; broad at the base and tapering to a sharp tip. Darkish culmen ridge and tip
  • Dull grey legs and feet

Males- entire crown is red, females red hindcrown only


Occurs from Europe to the Pacific coast of northern Asia.

In the Western Palearctic, the main breeding range is Scandinavia except the highest mountains and the far north and from Germany and Switzerland across Europe to the Urals and Caspian. In the south breeds as far as northern Greece but rare and local in Turkey. Scattered breeding populations in much of France and the Low Countries, the Pyrenees and Cantabrians, southern Apennines, the eastern Balkans and isolated in the Caucasus.

Photo © by Pasha
Moscow, Russia

Breeds across northern Asia from the Urals to Kamchatka, Sakhalin and China. In Japan breeds on Hokkaido and has bred in northern Honshu and there is an isolated population in western China.

Mainly resident but small numbers are seen at Scandinavian migration sites and juveniles disperse to some extent. Expanding range in north-western Europe, particularly in France and now found as far west as Brittany.

Vagrants have possibly reached Britain but despite now having been reported more than 80 times there are no accepted records. The English Channel does not seem to be an insurmountable barrier for this species as it has colonised the Danish island of Bornholm which lies a similar distance from the mainland as that between northern France and Kent.



There are 2 subspecies[1]:

  • D. m. martius:
  • Coniferous and beech forests of Eurasia
  • D. m. khamensis:


Mature forest, coniferous, deciduous or preferably mixed. In winter may occur in rather more open habitats.


Photo © by aritervo
Finland, city of Kajaani, April 2009


Nests in large trees, favours beech, pine or aspen, and 4 or more eggs are laid. Often drums from the highest tree in the area.


Frequently feeds on the ground. Their main diet consists of various ants and their larvae.


Drum: very loud and fast. Can be heard at distances of 2-4 km.
Call: loud p'eee and kvi-vi-vi-vi


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Birdwatchers Pocket Guide ISBN 1-85732-804-3
  3. Collins Bird Guide ISBN 0 00 219728 6
  4. The Spread of Black Woodpecker in Europe - Will It Reach Britain next? Birding World 11 (11) Gerard Gorman.
  5. Woodpeckers of Europe: A Study of the European Picidae. Gerard Gorman. ISBN 1-872842-05-4
  6. Birdforum thread discussing tear-shaped pupil in Black Woodpecker
  7. Winkler, H. and D. A. Christie (2020). Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.blawoo1.01

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