Family Woodpeckers (Picidae)

Least Concern

Cardinal Woodpecker (Dendropicos fuscescens)


French: Pic cardinal German: Kardinalspecht Spanish: Pito cardenal

Picus fuscescens


, 1818,

Swellendam district, Western Cape Province, South Africa


May be close to D. abyssinicus. Races often treated as comprising three geographical groups: NE “hemprichii group” (also with massaicus); W & C “lafresnayi group” (including sharpii and lepidus); and S “fuscescens group” (with centralis, hartlaubii and intermedius). Races intergrade to variable extent, also interbreed, especially in E & S. Numerous other described races are all considered insufficiently differentiated to warrant recognition or represent clinal variation: cosensi, known from single type specimen (Senegal), is merged with lafresnayi, and camerunensis (Cameroon) with sharpii; chyulu (Chyulu Hills, in S Kenya) synonymized with hartlaubii; loandae (N Angola to W DRCongo) synonymized with centralis, as are camacupae (Angolan plateau E to Malawi), stresemanni (N Namibia) and capriviensis (SW Zambia to N Botswana); harei (S Namibia) and orangensis (Orange R basin in E South Africa) lumped with nominate; and transvaalensis (S Zimbabwe and E Limpopo), noomei (coastal S Mozambique and NE KwaZulu-Natal) and natalensis (lowland E Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal) are regarded as synonyms of intermedius. Nine subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • D. f. lafresnayi Malherbe, 1849 – Western Cardinal Woodpecker – Senegambia to SW Niger#R and E to Nigeria.
  • D. f. sharpii Oustalet, 1879 – Cameroon and Central African Republic to W DRCongo, S to N Angola.
  • D. f. lepidus (Cabanis & Heine, 1863) – South Sudan, E DRCongo, and highlands of Ethiopia, Uganda, W & C Kenya, Rwanda and NW Tanzania.
  • D. f. hemprichii (Ehrenberg, 1833) – Eastern Cardinal Woodpecker – N & E Ethiopia (lower elevations), Somalia and N & E Kenya.
  • D. f. massaicus Neumann, 1900 – S Ethiopia at middle elevations, and W & C Kenya and C Tanzania at lower altitudes.
  • D. f. centralis Neumann, 1900 – Angola (except W) and S DRCongo E to W Tanzania, S to N Namibia and Zambia.
  • D. f. hartlaubii Malherbe, 1849 – from Kenya–Tanzania border S to extreme E Zambia, Malawi and C Mozambique (R Zambezi).
  • D. f. fuscescens (Vieillot, 1818) – Southern Cardinal Woodpecker – NC Namibia, Botswana, and most of South Africa E to Free State and W KwaZulu-Natal.
  • D. f. intermedius Roberts, 1924 – C Mozambique (R Zambezi) S to E South Africa (to S KwaZulu-Natal).
  • Descriptive notes

    14–16 cm; 20–31 g (lepi­dus), 29–37 g (fuscescens). Male has brownish forehead to mid-crown, red hindcrown to hindneck, broad white... read more


    Shrill chittering “kweek-eek-eek-ik-ik” by both sexes; “creek, creek, creek... read more


    Variety of open and dense woodland, wooded grassland and bushland; absent only from moist mountain... read more

    Food and feeding

    Insects and their larvae, particularly beetles; also caterpillars. Termites (Isoptera), grasshoppers (Orthoptera) and fruits also recorded... read more


    Season about Feb–Jul in W Africa, nest in Dec in Sierra Leone; Jun–Nov in Angola; nest with chicks in mid-late Mar in N Somalia... read more



    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Common and widespread throughout almost entire range; Africa’s most widespread woodpecker, occurring in most of continent S of Sahara;... read more

    Recommended citation

    Winkler, H. & Christie, D.A. (2020). Cardinal Woodpecker (Dendropicos fuscescens). 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 20 February 2020).