Black Woodpecker

Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius.


Other English name: Great Black Woodpecker.


Genus: Dryocopus, Boie 1826. First described as Picus martius by Linnaeus in 1758.



Above: Juvenile female, near Bran, Transylvania, Romania. Summer 2006 (Daniel Petrescu).


Distribution/Range: Black Woodpecker is a widely distributed species. Its range stretches across the cooler temperate regions of the Palearctic, in a zone falling roughly between 62 and 69 degrees north. It is not uncommon locally from Spain, France and the Low Countries in the west, to Italy and Greece to the south, as far as the Arctic Circle in the north and eastwards through the taiga belt into Asia. The nominate martius race occurs over most of this vast area. In Europe Black Woodpeckers occur in suitable habitat from sea level to the timberline in the Alps, Pyrenees and Carpathians. Black Woodpeckers breed in 33 European countries, being absent only from Portugal (seen but no confirmed breeding), Iceland, Britain and Ireland. Populations are found on the island of Kefallinia, Greece, and they used to breed on Sicily. In the Baltic Sea they are resident on Gotland, Aland, Bornholm and some other islands.




Measurements: Length 45-47 cm. Wing span 67-73 cm. Thus by far the largest woodpecker in Europe being 50% larger than Green Woodpecker and almost twice the size of Great Spotted Woodpecker. Larger than Jackdaw Corvus monedula and almost as big as Rook C.frugilegus. Not as bulky as these corvids but often compared to them because of a mainly all-black, glossy plumage.



Above: Black Woodpeckers can look rather crow-like, especially when in flight. May 1999, Sweden (Göran Ekström).


General: In certain light, adults have a bluish tinge to the plumage, particularly on the upper-parts. The primaries occasionally have a brownish tinge and the under-parts often appear greyer than the upper-parts. When the plumage is worn it is less glossy, more matt and charcoal-grey. The white eye is often striking. In the hand it can be seen that the iris is yellowish or cream. Has a massive, dagger-shaped bill, broad at the base and tapering to a sharp, chisel tip. This impressive tool is around 5cm long, some 60% of the total skull length. The bill is greyish-white with the culmen ridge and tip indigo or black. Legs and feet are dull grey. Has a long, slim neck and angular, pointed nape that together create a hammer-headed appearance.



Above: Two adult males in dispute and display. Békes County, Hungary (Pál Marik). Note the complete red crowns.


Adult male: Overall plumage glossy black. Bright red crown, from forehead to hindcrown. Males have slightly larger bills and feet than females, though these features are only really noticeable in the hand when measurements are taken.



Above: Adult male. Dyrehaven, Denmark (Allan Gudio Nielsen). Note the small black line from the iris to the rim of the eye. This is often visible on close-up photographs though not on birds in the field.


Adult female: As adult male but red on head restricted to hind-crown patch and pointed in shape at the rear. Rest of crown black. Red is sometimes minimal and often flecked with grey feathers when worn. Not as glossy black as male and can be rather matt and brownish. Bill shorter than on male but this hard to judge in the field.



Above: Adult female, Germany (Thomas Kraft). Note only the hindcrown is red.


Below: Adult female, Crisan, Danube Delta, Romania (Daniel Petrescu). Note the minimal red on the crown.


Juvenile male: Both sexes exhibit sexual dimorphism and as with adults this involves the extent of red on crown. The first signs of sexual dimorphism appear at about ten days. By the time young are peeping out of the nest-hole they can be visually sexed. Juvenile male very similar to adult male, having most of crown red though this does not extend as far forward as on adult male and is narrower, but almost always more extensive than on females. Red also duller, flecked grey and with dark bases to feathers. Overall black plumage is duller, sooty rather than glossy, often brownish, especially on the wings and tail, sometimes with just a hint of brown. Sometimes grey or white patches in plumage. Throat is paler than adult, being dark grey rather than black. On some birds this is striking, on others hardly noticeable. Iris is often bluish-grey not white as adult. Bill is cleaner with grey tip rather than all greyish-white as most adults and culmen ridge is grey not black. Legs and feet are lighter than on adult, being bluish-grey. Recently fledged juveniles have an odd wedge-shaped tail due to most of two tail feathers being initially shorter than on adults.



Above: Juvenile male, recently fledged. Near Crisan, Danube Delta, Romania (Daniel Petrescu). Note the all red crown denoting a male even at this age. Also the brown plumage, especially on the wings, and the short tail feathers.


Juvenile female: As juvenile male but shows adult female trait of red only on hind-crown. But this is often minimal being just a few feathers with dark bases and red tips, and sometimes almost completely absent. It is difficult to judge whether juveniles lacking red are males or females, though a fair guess is that young lacking red will be females rather than males. There can be some variation in the amount of red that juveniles show on the crown within broods as well as between broods.


Above: Adult male. Finland (Jari Peltomaki).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *