Family Woodpeckers (Picidae)

Least Concern

Brown-backed Woodpecker (Dendropicos obsoletus)


French: Pic à dos brun German: Braunrückenspecht Spanish: Pico dorsipardo

Picus obsoletus


, 1829,



Affinities uncertain. Recently placed in monotypic genus Ipophilus#R, and has been included in Dendrocopos and Picoides; recent molecular study included it in Dendropicos, but with caveat that its “position remains unclear and subject to change”#R. S Ethiopian birds described as separate race nigricans, but considered indistinguishable from ingens. Four subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • D. o. obsoletus (Wagler, 1829) – Senegambia E to W Sudan, W South Sudan and Uganda (E to Teso), S to C Sierra Leone, S Cameroon and NE DRCongo.
  • D. o. heuglini (Neumann, 1904) – E Sudan, N Ethiopia and Eritrea.
  • D. o. ingens (E. J. O. Hartert, 1900) – WC & S Ethiopia, NE Uganda, W, C & SE Kenya and extreme N Tanzania (Loliondo).
  • D. o. crateri (W. L. Sclater & Moreau, 1935) – N Tanzania from Crater Highlands S to Nou Forest.
  • Descriptive notes

    c. 13–16 cm; 18–25 g. Male has pale brown forehead becoming darker on crown, red hindcrown and nape; white super­cilium from behind eye, extending as stripe... read more


    Single clicking calls; weak high-pitched trill; also longer or shorter series of "kweek-week... read more


    Inhabits drier areas, favouring scrubby terrain, wooded grassland, edges of cultivation, ... read more

    Food and feeding

    Lepidopteran and coleopteran larvae, and various adult insects; also fruits recorded. Usually singly or in pairs; often joins mixed-species... read more


    Dec–Jun in W of range, Jan–Apr and Aug in E. Nest-hole excavated by both sexes, at 2–7 m in tree or stub, often isolated... read more


    Apparently resident. Individuals recorded in SE Kenya (E to Shimba Hills and Mombasa area) and NE... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Rather local and generally uncommon. Widespread in Senegal; locally frequent to common in Gambia; not uncommon in Sierra Leone; local and uncommon in... read more

    Recommended citation

    Winkler, H. & Christie, D.A. (2019). Brown-backed Woodpecker (Dendropicos obsoletus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 16 December 2019).