Family Woodpeckers (Picidae)

Near Threatened

Ground Woodpecker (Geocolaptes olivaceus)


French: Pic laboureur German: Erdspecht Spanish: Pito terrestre

Picus olivaceus

J. F. Gmelin

, 1788,

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa


No known close relatives (except perhaps Campethera nivosa and C. caroli). Races rather weakly differentiated. Montane Lesotho population sometimes separated as race petrobates; theresae (from W Northern Cape) subsumed within nominate. Two subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • G. o. olivaceus (J. F. Gmelin, 1788) – W South Africa S from W & C Northern Cape.
  • G. o. prometheus Clancey, 1952 – E South Africa from SE Western Cape NE to Mpumalanga, W Swaziland and Lesotho.
  • Descriptive notes

    22–30 cm; 105–134 g. Male has brownish-grey forehead and crown, browner nape often with slight trace of red, grey sides of head and neck, dark grey malar with... read more


    Loud, harsh “peer, peer, peer” or “pee-aa-r-g-h” screams when flushed; loud... read more


    Open rocky terrain in uplands, including grassy boulder-strewn slopes and hillsides, open grassland... read more

    Food and feeding

    Highly specialized on ants, ant broods and alates; termites (Isoptera), beetles and other insects, and mites (Acari) also taken. Ants of... read more


    Aug–Sept in Cape Province and Transvaal; Jul–Dec, mainly Oct–Nov, in Natal. Single-brooded. In pairs or trios,... read more



    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Currently considered Near Threatened. Common in most of range. Its use of essentially unthreatened, often remote, habitats implies that species is... read more

    Recommended citation

    Winkler, H., Christie, D.A., Kirwan, G.M. & Sharpe, C.J. (2019). Ground Woodpecker (Geocolaptes olivaceus). 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 7 December 2019).