Family Woodpeckers (Picidae)

Least Concern

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)


French: Pic épeiche German: Buntspecht Spanish: Pico picapinos
Other common names: Greater Pied Woodpecker

Picus major


, 1758,



Forms a species-group with D. assimilis, D. syriacus, D. leucopterus and D. himalayensis, probably including also D. darjellensis#R; hybridizes rarely with second and third of those, and named form tianshanicus (from C Tien Shan) considered to refer to offspring of mixed pairs of present species and D. leucopterus. Has interbred also with more distantly related D. leucotos. Recent study of mtDNA variation within this complex of taxa led to proposal, on basis of results of phylogenetic analysis (including gene flow), that races be divided into at least four distinct species, D. poelzami, D. japonicus, D. cabanisi (with stresemanni), and D. major (with remaining races)#R, at least two of those (japonicus, cabanisi) being found to be distinct also in subsequent, independent analyses#R; further, distinctive form numidus seems worthy of possible species treatment. Race mauritanus somewhat intermediate between nominate and numidus, but genetically closer to former; somewhat surprisingly, genetic difference between Canary Is and Eurasian races is minimal. Variation in plumage and biometrics over vast range is largely (but not wholly) clinal, races intergrading extensively and with many intermediate populations, thus many additional named races not certainly identifiable and considered unacceptable: anglicus (Britain), italiae (Pyrenees E to Switzerland and Italy), parroti (Corsica), lynesi (Atlas Mts in Morocco), candidus (S Russia, Romania, Bulgaria), paphlagoniae (N Turkey), tenuirostris (Crimea, Caucasus, Transcaucasia), tscherskii (Ussuriland and Sakhalin), hondoensis (N & C Honshu and smaller islands), wulashanicus (S Inner Mongolia), beicki (Gansu, in W China), mandarinus (S & SE China) and hainanus (Hainan I). Fourteen subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • D. m. major (Linnaeus, 1758) – Eurasian Great Spotted Woodpecker – Scandinavia and W Siberia E to Urals and S to N Poland and N Ukraine.
  • D. m. brevirostris (Reichenbach, 1854) – from W Siberia E to Sea of Okhotsk, lower R Amur and NE China, and S to C Tien Shan and Mongolia.
  • D. m. kamtschaticus (Dybowski, 1883) – Kamchatka and N Okhotsk coast.
  • D. m. pinetorum (C. L. Brehm, 1831) – E Ireland#R, Britain, France and C Europe E to R Volga and S to Italy, Balkans, Turkey, S Ukraine and Caucasus.
  • D. m. hispanus (Schlüter, 1908) – Iberia.
  • D. m. harterti Arrigoni, 1902 – Sardinia and Corsica.
  • D. m. canariensis (A. F. König, 1889) – Tenerife, in WC Canary Is.
  • D. m. thanneri le Roi, 1911 – Gran Canaria, in C Canary Is.
  • D. m. mauritanus (C. L. Brehm, 1855) – Morocco.
  • D. m. numidus (Malherbe, 1843) – Algerian Great Spotted Woodpecker – N Algeria and Tunisia.
  • D. m. poelzami (Bogdanov, 1879) – Caspian Great Spotted Woodpecker – S Caspian region and Transcaspia.
  • D. m. japonicus (Seebohm, 1883) – Japanese Great Spotted Woodpecker – extreme NE China (N & E Heilongjiang) and SE Siberia to Sakhalin and Kuril Is, S to Korea and Japan (Hokkaido, Honshu, Tsushima).
  • D. m. stresemanni (Rensch, 1924) – C China (E Qinghai, Gansu, Shaanxi, W Sichuan) S to SE Tibet, NE India, W & N Myanmar and Yunnan.
  • D. m. cabanisi (Malherbe, 1854) – Chinese Great Spotted Woodpecker – S Heilongjiang S to E Myanmar, N Laos, N Vietnam (NW Tonkin), SE China and Hainan.
  • Descriptive notes

    20–24 cm; 70–98 g (major), 68–93 g (pinetorum), 66–98 g (cabanisi). Male has black nasal tufts, white to buffish forehead,... read more


    Single sharp “kix”, in alarm sometimes in rapid series; wooden “krrarraarr... read more


    All kinds of woodland and forest, from pure broadleaved forest to unmixed stands of conifers; also... read more

    Food and feeding

    Very varied diet, with clear seasonal changes in more seasonal habitats. Animal food consists mainly of larvae of wood-boring beetles (... read more


    Laying from mid-Apr to Jun, later in far N and at higher altitude, but courtship commences in Dec. Monogamous, but polyandry also recorded... read more


    Largely resident and dispersive; N populations also subject to eruptive migration. Juvenile... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). In many parts of range by far the commonest woodpecker; less common locally, and rare in SE Asia. In Europe estimated population c. 3... read more

    Recommended citation

    Winkler, H., Christie, D.A. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major). 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 9 December 2019).