FOCUS: Great spotted woodpecker

The Focus series

The Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) is a Eurasian species of woodpecker. With the European green woodpecker (Picus viridis), it’s one of the two most common woodpeckers in France. They can both be seen frequently in gardens. In Finland, there’s no Green woodpecker, but the Great spotted woodpecker is quite a common sight.

It feeds mostly on insects and larvae, which it finds in tree trunks. When hidden by the foliage, you can hear its characteristic drumming produced by its repeated blows on the wood. When flying, the flight is undulating like a passerine.


The Great spotted woodpecker is one of the numerous species of black, white and red woodpeckers. The adult male has a red spot at the back of the head, whereas the female lacks this spot.

Similar species include Syrian woodpecker (Dendrocopos syriacus), White-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos), Middle spotted woodpecker (Leiopicus medius) and Lesser spotted woodpecker (Dryobates minor). I saw the latter in Finland a few times. When your eye is trained, you immediatly notice the size difference between the species. Between all these species, the variations are nonetheless subtle: take a look at the color of the crown, the neck pattern or the back color.

Lesser spotted woodpecker
Lesser spotted woodpecker

I was walking in a wood near Herttoniemi, eastern Helsinki, when I heard unceasing chirping in the trees. Going further, I noticed several cavities in a single tree. I suspected the presence of a nest in one the holes when an adult woodpecker appeared, fed the babies and left. The nest was definitely in camera range, so I readied it and waited. I waited maybe 15 minutes, and just when I was wondering whether it was to come back, it arrived to feed the younglings once more. I got some interesting shots, and then a few others. Both times it was the male coming.


I had never witnessed this before, but I spotted two other nests in Nuuksio and one in Seurasaari, where one chick was strong enough to show up out the cavity.

A cavity in Nuuksio
A cavity in Nuuksio
The young woodpecker taking a peek outside


In Seurasaari, I observed a bird roaming near mangers aimed at squirrels, along with tits and chaffinches (cover picture).

> Wildlife gallery

4 thoughts on “FOCUS: Great spotted woodpecker

  1. It’s interesting to know the difference between male and female woodpeckers. I’m planning to go on a holiday trip soon, and I’m looking for activities that are out of ordinary. Your post gave me a great idea. Thanks for the information about birdwatching, I’ll definitely try it!

    Liked by 1 person

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