All About The Great Spotted Woodpecker - Spotted Woodpecker Bird Facts & Information

About Great Spotted Woodpecker Birds

Woodpecker in treetrunk

Often seen on a tree trunk or tree branch, these wildlife birds that are similar in size to a blackbird, are not afraid to make some noise. Before these birds are spotted, they are usually heard by their loud call and distinctive drumming sound.

Identified by their white cheeks with a black line, a white body with a bright red rump, these birds are easily recognised. You can tell a male apart from his red crown patch on the back of his neck.

Often seen climbing tree trunks and branches, the Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) can beheard hammering tree trunks in dying or dead trees to nest, to communicate and to find food in the tree bark.

Do Spotted Woodpeckers migrate?

The Great Spotted Woodpecker, are mostly sedentary birds - so they don't typically travel long distances.

However, if there are changes in food availability and weather, the Great Spotted Woodpecker will exhibit a short distance movement to find areas that are better suited for them.

Are Spotted Woodpeckers Rare in the UK?

With two other species of Woodpecker in the UK, the Great Spotted Woodpecker is by far the most commonly seen.

They are mainly found in the Scottish Highlands and parts of northern England, particularly in areas with mature coniferous forests.

However, their populations have declined in some regions due to habitat loss and fragmentation and there is some conservation concern. Conservation efforts aimed at preserving their habitats are crucial for maintaining their presence in the UK - their UK conservation status is green.

Great Spotted Woodpecker vs Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 

Both the Great Spotted Woodpecker and the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker are two species of three species of woodpeckers found in the UK. They are similar, but there are some key differences between them!


Larger than Lesser Spotted Woodpecker's, Great Spotted Woodpecker's typically measures around 23 - 26 centimetres where as the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is around 14 centimetres in length.


With striking black and white plumage that has red patches on the belly (and back of the head for males) the Great Spotted Woodpecker has a easily recognisable appearance, especially compared to the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker who have a much more subtle plumage - just black and white without the red patches.


Great Spotted Woodpeckers are more adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, parks, and gardens. They are often seen in both deciduous and coniferous forests.

Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers prefer denser, mature woodlands, especially those with a good supply of dead wood and mature trees for foraging.


In the UK, Great Spotted Woodpeckers are more common and widespread compared to Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are considered to be declining in numbers and are classified as a Red List species of conservation concern in the UK.

Where do Spotted Woodpeckers live?

Great Spotted Woodpeckers live in mature forests. They love an area with dense and mature trees such as spruce, pine, fir and other coniferous trees.

These woodpeckers prefer habitats with a mix of mature trees, deadwood, and suitable nesting sites. They rely on dead and decaying trees for foraging, as they feed primarily on insects found in the bark and wood of trees. In recent years, the Dutch Elm Disease (that causes dead wood in trees) has benefited these birds as they have more space to live.

Great Spotted Woodpeckers are adapted to boreal and subarctic climates and can withstand cold temperatures typical of their habitat.

While they are primarily associated with coniferous forests, Spotted Woodpeckers may also inhabit mixed forests or areas with a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees, especially in regions where suitable habitat and food is available. They will also venture into gardens to feed and nest if the habitat is suitable.

How long do Spotted Woodpeckers live?

Although if conditions are perfect, some Woodpeckers may live longer, the average lifespan of the Great Spotted Woodpecker is four to seven years.

Depending on disease, habitat and food availability - this could be longer or shorter!

Spotted Woodpecker Breeding Season 

The breeding period begins in spring around mid April when male Great Spotted Woodpeckers will put on the most amazing courtship displays that include drumming on trees, vocalisations and visual displays perfect for attracting a female.

Once they have formed a pair, both the male and the female will work to create a nesting cavity and build the nest. Once they have everything ready, the female will lay a clutch size of up to 6 eggs - once laid, both parents will work together to incubate the eggs for 2 weeks.

After the 2 week incubation period has come to an end, the young Great Spotted Woodpeckers hatch and face a 20 days period of developing their flight wings and gaining strength. Once they are ready, these bird fly the nest - some of these birds will stay with their parents for a short period of time to learn essential skills such as foraging and navigation.

Do Spotted Woodpeckers Mate for Life?

Great Spotted Woodpeckers, like many other birds, typically do not mate for life. They are generally monogamous during the breeding season, forming pairs that work together to raise their offspring. However, these pairs often last only for the duration of the breeding season.

What Do Spotted Woodpeckers Feed Their Young Birds

During the breeding season, adult Spotted Woodpeckers spend a significant amount of time foraging for insects to feed their chicks. They may feed their young various types of insects found within their habitat, including adult beetles, ants, caterpillars, and other small invertebrates.

To provide food for their offspring, adult Spotted Woodpeckers use their strong bills to excavate cavities in trees where insects may be hiding. They may also search for insects on the surface of tree bark or probe into crevices and cracks in the wood to locate prey.

What do Great Spotted Woodpeckers Eat?

Great Spotted Woodpeckers are skilled insect hunters. They use their strong bills to peck and drill into tree bark to uncover insects such as beetles, ants, caterpillars, and their larvae. They often focus on wood-boring beetle larvae, which they extract from beneath the bark of trees.

Particularly during the winter months when insects may be less abundant, these birds will feed on tree sap. They access sap by pecking at the bark of trees, causing sap to flow, and then licking it up with their tongues.

In addition to insects, Great Spotted Woodpeckers will also consume nuts and conifer seeds, especially during the winter when insect prey is scarce. They may visit bird feeders to consume peanuts, sunflower seeds, and other seeds provided by humans. They will also extract seeds from pine cones.

While not a primary component of their diet, Great Spotted Woodpeckers will occasionally eat fruits and berries, especially in the autumn when these food items are more abundant. They may consume berries from various shrubs and trees.

Spotted Woodpeckers Predators 

Preying on both adults and the young, woodland bird of prey are a threat to this species of Woodpecker as they hunt these birds when they are in vulnerable positions.

During the nesting season, mammals such as Squirrels and domestic cats prey on the eggs, chicks and vulnerable adults which makes this season an incredibly hard time for these birds.

How to Attract Spotted Woodpeckers into Your Garden

Great Spotted Woodpecker's are primarily associated with mature forests but that doesn't mean they don't venture into your garden (if you have coniferous tress you may already have them in your garden!)

Great Spotted Woodpeckers will use bird feeders that offer nuts, wild bird seeds and suet and at some times of the year, this is an important food source. In your garden, a feeding station with peanuts, and sunflower hearts are the perfect way to appeal to a whole range of bird species, including Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

Similar to most birds (and humans!) Great Spotted Woodpeckers have a need for drinking and bathing water, a shallow water feature, bird bath or dish of water is the perfect way to invite these gorgeous birds into your outside space.

For breeding, Great Spotted Woodpecker's excavate a hole in the tree for breeding - they will typically choose dead or decaying trees but they will use a Woodpecker nest box.

If you really want to create a Great Spotted Woodpecker's dream habitat - you can create an environment that attracts insects - such as adding in an insect hotel and making sure you avoid the use of pesticides in your garden.

Perching on tree trunks and branches whilst foraging is a favourite past time of these birds, so if you can leave some branches standing in your garden to provide the perfect perching spot.

Five Facts about Spotted Woodpeckers

  1. Great Spotted Woodpeckers have striking black and white plumage with distinct spots on their wings and back, which gives them their name. They also have a bold white stripe running down the center of their black wings, making them easily identifiable.

  2. Unlike most woodpeckers, which have four toes, Great Spotted Woodpeckers have only three toes on each foot. This unique adaptation helps them grip onto vertical surfaces such as tree trunks while foraging for insects.

  3. Like other Woodpecker species, Great Spotted Woodpeckers engage in drumming behaviour, where they rapidly peck on tree trunks to communicate with other woodpeckers and establish territories. Their drumming can be loud and distinctive, often echoing through the forest.

  4. Great Spotted Woodpeckers are primarily found in boreal and subarctic forests of northern Europe and Asia. They are well adapted to cold climates and rely on mature coniferous forests for nesting and foraging.

  5. Spotted Woodpeckers excavate nest cavities in trees, typically selecting dead or decaying trees for nesting sites. They may also use artificial nest boxes if suitable natural cavities are scarce. Both male and female woodpeckers take part in excavating the nest cavity and raising the young.