Green Woodpecker

Green Woodpecker Picus viridis.


Other English names: European Green Woodpecker, Eurasian Green Woodpecker.


Genus: Picus, Linnaeus 1758. First described by Linnaeus in 1758.



Above: Camouflage is not something often associated with woodpeckers, but as can be seen here the green plumage of this male Green Woodpecker allows the bird to blend into the grass when feeding. A useful aid against aerial predators such as hawks. The bird is also in a crouched defensive pose. Leipzig, Germany  (Thomas Kraft).


Distribution/Range: The global range of Green Woodpecker falls almost entirely within the Western Palearctic region. It is widespread in Europe’s boreal, temperate and Mediterranean zones. In the north its range stretches along the Norwegian coast to the Arctic Circle in the west and to the Baltic coast of Estonia and Russia in the east. In Sweden numbers peter out in the middle of the country where the taiga zone begins and it is totally absent from Finland. Winter severity certainly influences distribution and local population densities. In the south it reaches as far as the tips of Spain, Italy and Greece, but is absent from Iceland and Ireland and indeed most islands including the Balearics, Sardinia, Corsica and Sicily. In central Europe it is a widespread and locally common species. In Slovakia it is found in suitable habitat everywhere below 800 m. In Hungary it is fairly common and widespread occurring wherever there is suitable habitat. In the UK it is fairly widespread but does not occur in most, treeless, upland areas. In many ways, however, it is the most adaptable of the three UK woodpecker species with strongholds in the southeast England, the New Forest, South Wales and East Anglia. Overall Green Woodpecker distribution closely follows that of the distribution of ground dwelling ant species. In Iberia the sharpei race is fairly common and widespread in all wooded habitat types but especially so in lightly wooded terrain such as cork-oak woods and dehesa, however, densities decrease significantly, in all habitat types, as one heads southwards. In fact, this decrease from north to south is true for all woodpecker species in Iberia.




Above: Adult male, England (Bill Baston). Note the red malar.





Above: Adult male and recently fledged juvenile, England (Bill Baston)




Measurements: Length 31-33 cm. Wingspan 40-42 cm. Thus between the larger Black Woodpecker and smaller Grey-headed and White-backed Woodpeckers in size.


General: Nominate race viridis is described here, Iberian race sharpei below. A stocky, heavy looking woodpecker closely related to Grey-headed though some 20-25% larger. Upper body colour is various shades of green with a yellow rump which is especially prominent in flight. Both sexes have a full, bright crimson crown from the forehead to the nape, sometimes flecked with grey, and a black orbital mask. Ear-coverts, sides of neck and border of red nape cream, tinged with yellow. Cheeks grey or dirty white, often with washed out greenish tone. Chin and throat white, sometimes with hint of lime. Breast, belly and flanks pale, from off-white to dusky grey, sometimes with yellowish tones. Flanks sometimes lightly barred or dotted with grey-olive-green. Dusky ventral area and upwards to lower flanks and lower belly mottled with grey-green-brown chevrons or bars. Mantle, upper back, scapulars and tertials light green. Rump and upper-tail coverts bright yellow in fresh plumage, duller, olive, when worn. Inner tail feathers black with green edges and dotted with buff-white spots. Under-tail more spotted than upper. Outer tail feathers greener with dusky barring. Outermost rectrix is black and green. Brown-blackish primaries dotted with creamy white. Secondaries dark green speckled with faint white dots. Under-wing coverts and auxiliaries are green-yellow, with some faint grey bars. Has an impressive long, dagger shaped bill, broad across the nostrils and with gently curved culmen. Bill comprises over 50% of total skull length. The bill is mostly grey in colour with the base of the lower mandible being paler. The legs and feet are grey. The iris is white, sometimes pinkish and sometimes with a thin pink outer ring, and stands out within the black face.


Adult male: Main difference from female is presence of red in black malar stripe. This might also be described, as a red malar stripe bordered by black, such is the extent of red.



Above: Adult male, Balatonkenese, Hungary, December 2003 (Dan Bastaja). Note strong red malar.


Adult female: Malar stripe is all black, lacking the red coloured centre of the male. Black orbital mask often less extensive behind the eye. Barring on flanks often more pronounced, reaching the sides of the lower breast.


Above: Adult female, Budapest, Hungary (Gábor Vasuta). Note lack of red malar.


Juveniles: Juveniles are very easily separated from adults until their first moult in the late summer-autumn. Heavy cream-white-beige spotting and barring covers the mantle, back, scapulars and wing-coverts. Coverts sometimes so spotted that they appear almost all white and are also mottled with cream-white-grey speckles and with broken bars on the under-parts. Brownish bars cover the neck sides and ear-coverts. This scaly appearance is partly produced by dark sub-marginal lines on the feathers. Overall a duller olive green, with heavy blackish streaking. Rump is a dull yellow, not as bright as on adult, and barred white. Red crown is heavily mottled with grey and white. Wings and tail barred grey-black. Tail feathers and primaries more or less as adult. Bill dark grey. Base of lower mandible often yellowish. Legs and feet dull olive. Iris is greyish-brownish whereas they are white or pinkish in adults.



Juvenile male: Black-charcoal malar stripe weaker than on adult male, containing some red feather tips.



Above: Juvenile male, Germany. Note the red in the rather weak malar stripe (Thomas Kraft).


Juvenile female: As juvenile male though lacks red feather tips in faint black-grey malar stripe.


Races: Subtle clinal differences in plumage exist between the various races. The karelini race of central and southern Europe has duller green upper-parts than nominate and is overall duskier with yellow and green areas less bright. However, Iberian race sharpei visibly separable being smaller with bill, wings and tail all shorter than other races. Measurements also differ within the population, birds being clinally larger in an eastward direction, hence those in Portugal are the smallest and those in eastern Spain the largest. More like karelini than nominate in terms of dull tone of green upper-parts and in having greyish lores and ear-coverts. Differs from nominate mainly in lacking black orbital area. Rather, the area around the eye, ear-coverts and supercilium are grey and only the lores black. In both sexes red crown also lacks black border. Red on crown is paler than on nominate. Whitish spots on primaries are fewer in number but larger than on other races. Outer tail feathers have less green, more black. Under-parts unbarred, recalling Grey-headed Woodpecker. Bill also shorter than other races.


Adult male sharpei:Male and female of this race differ in same way as male and female of other races do, i.e. male has red malar stripe bordered by black. Red in malar stripe is lighter than in males of other races and bordered only at rear and on lower edge by black.


Adult female sharpei: All black malar stripe. Faint white line between malar stripe and lores and ear-coverts. Lores dusky not black.


Below: Adult female sharpei, France.(Georges Olioso & Jean-Marc Pons). Note the lack of the large back orbital area which other races show. Being “in the hand” this bird has raised its crown feathers in alarm.


Juvenile male sharpei: Both male and female juveniles differ significantly from adults. Differences are similar to those in nominate, but are less marked and less patterned, especially on the under-parts, than juveniles of other races. There are however dark markings on the face and neck sides. The pale red malar stripe is bordered by black below and at the rear.


Juvenile female sharpei: As juvenile male but lacks red in malar stripe.

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