Family Woodpeckers (Picidae)

Least Concern

Little Woodpecker (Veniliornis passerinus)


French: Pic passerin German: Sperlingsspecht Spanish: Carpintero chico

Picus passerinus


, 1766,

Dominica; error = Cayenne


Recent molecular phylogeny suggested that this species is part of a clade which includes also V. frontalis, V. callonotus, V. dignus, V. nigriceps and V. affinis#R. Present species sometimes hybridizes with V. frontalis, and occasionally considered conspecific. Races tend to intergrade. Forms olivinus (the largest) and taenionotus (among the smallest) thought to interbreed in EC Brazil (N Goiás, W Bahia, W Minas Gerais), and proposed race transfluvialis from this region considered probably a hybrid or intergrade. Likewise, birds from extreme W French Guiana described as race saturatus appear to be no more than intergrades. Nine subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • V. p. modestus J. T. Zimmer, 1942 – C & NE Venezuela.
  • V. p. fidelis (Hargitt, 1889) – W Venezuela (Trujillo S to E Táchira, and S Apure to extreme NW Amazonas) to E Colombia (S to Meta and Vaupés).
  • V. p. passerinus (Linnaeus, 1766) – Northern Little Woodpecker – the Guianas and NE Brazil (Amapá, E Pará).
  • V. p. diversus J. T. Zimmer, 1942 – N Brazil N of R Amazon (Roraima, NE Amazonas).
  • V. p. agilis (Cabanis & Heine, 1863) – extreme S Colombia (Putumayo, S Amazonas), E Ecuador and E Peru to W Brazil and S to N Bolivia (Beni).
  • V. p. insignis J. T. Zimmer, 1942 – WC Brazil (S bank of R Amazon to E bank of R Madeira).
  • V. p. tapajozensis Gyldenstolpe, 1941 – EC Brazil on both sides of lower Amazon where joined by R Tapajós.
  • V. p. taenionotus (Reichenbach, 1854) – E Brazil from Maranhão E to Pernambuco and Bahia.
  • V. p. olivinus (Natterer & Malherbe, 1845) – Southern Little Woodpecker – SE Bolivia, S Brazil (Mato Grosso E to Bahia, S to Paraná), Paraguay and NW & NE Argentina (S to Santa Fe).
  • Descriptive notes

    c. 14–15 cm; 24–37 g. Male has greyish forehead, red forecrown to hindneck with dark feather bases showing; rest of head dark brownish-olive, neck sides with... read more


    High-pitched “ki, ki, ki, ki” or “wi-wi-wi-wi-wi-wi-wi”, apparently as long... read more


    Rather versatile, generally preferring edges and clearings, and second growth. Occurs at edges of... read more

    Food and feeding

    Ants, termites (Isoptera), beetles and their larvae, and various other insects. Found singly, in pairs or in small groups; joins mixed-... read more


    Sept–Dec in French Guiana and Oct–Mar in Argentina; copulation observed in Feb in Colombia. Displays include wing-spreading,... read more



    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Uncommon to fairly common in Ecuador; fairly common in Peru. Appears generally to be not uncommon. Occurs in Serra do Cipó and... read more

    Recommended citation

    Winkler, H. & Christie, D.A. (2019). Little Woodpecker (Veniliornis passerinus). 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 14 December 2019).