Family Woodpeckers (Picidae)

Least Concern

White-backed Woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos)


French: Pic à dos blanc German: Weißrückenspecht Spanish: Pico dorsiblanco

Picus leucotos


, 1802,

Silesia, south Poland


No very close relatives within genus (except D. owstoni); has hybridized rarely with D. major, and probably closest to that species-group (comprising D. major, D. assimilisD. syriacusD. leucopterus and D. himalayensis, probably also D. darjellensis#R); similarity to Leiopicus medius may suggest relatedness, but this not borne out by available genetic data#R. Subspecific differentiation largely a result of vast range that includes many isolated and island populations, some of which are distinctive and one, owstoni, here accorded status of full species, differing from morphologically and geographically closest form (D. l. namiyei) in its larger overall size, expressed by longer bill and wings (bill 40.5 vs 35.5, wing 158.5 vs 147, but n=2 for namiyei#R; allow 2), much less white in wings and tail (2), buffier face, chin and throat (1), black (vs black-and-buffy-white-streaked) lower breast sides and flanks, forming a more complete or complete breastband (3), paler (flame-scarlet vs crimson) crown of male (ns[1]), and dull flame-red vs pinkish belly and vent (ns[1]); SW race lilfordi possibly also a distinct species, separated by altitude and ecology from parapatric nominate race (though altitudinal preferences of the two sometimes reversed#R), but hybridizing rarely in some overlap areas (e.g. Serbia). Races uralensis and quelpartensis tentatively accepted here, but perhaps not safely separable from, respectively, nominate and namiyei. Other described races are voznesenskii (E Siberia and Kamchatka), saghalinensis (Sakhalin), ussuriensis (Ussuriland and NE China) and sinicus (Korea), all considered inadequately differentiated or representing intergrades. Eleven subspecies recognized.

What do (1) and (2) mean? Learn more about the scoring system.
Subspecies and Distribution
  • D. l. leucotos (Bechstein, 1802) – W Norway, Sweden, Finland and Poland S in Europe to E Switzerland, Austria, N Serbia and Carpathian Mts, and E through S Russia to Kamchatka, Sakhalin, NE China and Korea.
  • D. l. uralensis (Malherbe, 1861) – W Siberia from W Ural Mts E to L Baikal.
  • D. l. lilfordi (Sharpe & Dresser, 1871) – Pyrenees, C Italy, the Balkans and Peloponnese, Turkey (N Anatolia, Taurus Mts), Caucasus and Transcaucasia.
  • D. l. tangi Cheng Tso-hsin, 1956 – C China (W Sichuan).
  • D. l. fohkiensis (Buturlin, 1908) – SE China (N Fujian).
  • D. l. subcirris (Stejneger, 1886) – S Kuril Is and N Japan (Hokkaido).
  • D. l. stejnegeri (Nagamichi Kuroda, 1921) – NC Japan (N Honshu).
  • D. l. namiyei (Stejneger, 1886) – C & S Japan (S Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu).
  • D. l. takahashii (Nagamichi Kuroda & Mori, 1920) – Ulleung I (Dagelet), off E Korea.
  • D. l. quelpartensis (Nagamichi Kuroda & Mori, 1918) – Jeju I (Quelpart), off S Korea.
  • D. l. insularis (Gould, 1863) – Taiwan.
  • Descriptive notes

    23–28 cm; 99–112 g (Europe, Russia), 92–158 g (China), 115 g (lilfordi). Male has white forehead and lores tinged grey or buff, crimson-red... read more


    Soft low “gig”; series of “kyig gyig” notes in alarm; also “gig gig... read more


    Old-growth and overmature but relatively open deciduous and mixed forest with high proportion of... read more

    Food and feeding

    Specializes on large wood-boring insect larvae, mainly cerambycid (Aromia, Necydalis, Rhagium, Saperda... read more


    Laying from late Apr, but significant courtship from Feb; season extends to May or Jun, is c. 2 weeks earlier than other woodpeckers in... read more


    Generally resident; some local movements. A few individuals seem to be carried along with eruptive... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Seems to be at best uncommon in most of its range, and in many parts rare or extremely rare, but may be commonest woodpecker in parts... read more

    Recommended citation

    Winkler, H. & Christie, D.A. (2020). White-backed Woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos). 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 24 January 2020).