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Quick facts

Common name: green woodpecker

Scientific name: Picus viridis

Family: Picidae (woodpeckers)

Habitat: woodland, grassland, parks and gardens

Diet: ants and other invertebrates

Predators: birds of prey

Origin: native

What do green woodpeckers look like?

The green woodpecker is unmistakable. Its wings are dark green, with a paler breast and a yellow rump that is evident in flight. The cheeks are black with a prominent red cap on top. Males have a red streak below their cheeks, but females do not. Green woodpeckers are the largest of the three breeding-woodpecker species found in the UK.

Green woodpecker foraging in the frozen grass

Credit: Buiten Beeld / Alamy Stock Photo

What do green woodpeckers eat?

The green woodpecker’s diet is dominated by ants. It catches the insects by probing the ground with its powerful beak and sucking them up with its long, sticky tongue. Other invertebrates may be taken occasionally.

Did you know?

A green woodpecker’s tongue is so long that it coils behind its skull in order to fit inside its head.

How do green woodpeckers breed?

Green woodpeckers nest in holes in trees. They excavate these spaces themselves, using their powerful beaks to chip into the wood over a period of several weeks. Four to six eggs will normally be laid, hatching after around three weeks. The chicks fledge after a similar period.

Green woodpecker female on grass

Credit: Bryan Mobley / WTML

Where do green woodpeckers live?

Green woodpeckers are found throughout England and Wales. They are absent from the north of Scotland and the whole of Ireland. The species requires trees for nesting, but open ground for catching ants. Open areas close to woodland are ideal green-woodpecker habitat. The birds will also visit parks and gardens provided there are trees nearby.

Did you know?

The species’ laughing call has earned it many different names in English folklore. These include yaffle, laughing Betsey and yaffingale.

Signs and spotting tips

The green woodpecker has a distinctive ‘laughing’ call that is a clear giveaway of its presence. Look out for its bright yellow rump flashing as it darts through the sky. Your best chance of a prolonged view is to watch a woodpecker as it hunts for ants on the ground. Be careful not to get too close, however, as these are shy birds that will flee at the first hint of danger. Green woodpeckers rarely drum on trees like other woodpecker species.

Green woodpecker call

Audio: Alexander Henderson / xeno-canto.org

Green woodpecker perched on tree stump

Credit: Thomas Hanahoe / Alamy Stock Photo

Threats and conservation

The green woodpecker population is doing well and is thought to have doubled since the 1970s. However, the loss of woodland and felling of trees threatens the species’ habitat.