Family Woodpeckers (Picidae)

Least Concern

Johnston's Woodpecker (Dendropicos johnstoni)


French: Pic de Johnston German: Johnstonspecht Spanish: Pito de Johnston

Polipicus johnstoni


, 1887,

Mt Cameroon, 6000 feet [c. 1830 m]


Sometimes (with D. elliotii) placed in a separate genus Mesopicos along with D. goertae, D. spodocephalus and D. griseocephalus#R; in the past, sometimes separated (with D. elliotii) in genus Polipicus. Generally regarded as conspecific with D. elliotii, and birds on Mt Kupé, here recognized as race kupeensis, have been considered a hybrid population; re-examination and re-measurement of specimens, however, show that kupeensis, while intermediate in tail length between the other two, is very close in wing length to johnstoni but has bill length shorter than that of johnstoni, indicating that it is not hybrid but merits status as a subspecies of johnstoni. On this basis, present species differs from D. elliotii in having no or only light streaking below (3); tail mainly blackish vs mainly same green as upperparts (2); greener, less buffy face (supercilium and ear-coverts) (1); smaller bill and shorter tail (effect size for tail when nominate and kupeensis combined vs elliotii −2.2; hence 2). Other named races are schultzei (Bioko I) and sordidatus (Oku district, in Bamenda Highlands of Cameroon), both of which seem indistinguishable from johnstoni. Two subspecies currently recognized.

What do (1) and (2) mean? Learn more about the scoring system.
Subspecies and Distribution
  • D. j. johnstoni (Shelley, 1887) – highlands of SE Nigeria, SW Cameroon and Bioko I.
  • D. j. kupeensis (Serle, 1952) – Mt Kupé (WC Cameroon).
  • Descriptive notes

    c. 20–21 cm. Male has black forehead and crown, red hindcrown and nape; rest of head, including crown sides, light grey-green, indistinct dark malar line formed by... read more


    Shrill “bwe-bwe” notes and series reported, also softer “kiwik-kiwik-kiwik”; voice apparently... read more


    Mainly dense, damp, mature mossy highland forest.

    Food and feeding

    Larvae of beetles, also other insects. Forages singly and in pairs; joins mixed-species flocks, occasionally with other woodpecker species... read more


    Few details. Season probably at least Oct–Nov/Dec; juveniles seen in Dec and Jan on Bioko.



    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Generally not uncommon throughout much of its range; locally common. Global population not yet quantified. Numbers considered likely... read more

    Recommended citation

    del Hoyo, J., Collar, N. & Christie, D.A. (2019). Johnston's Woodpecker (Dendropicos johnstoni). 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 10 December 2019).