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Grey-headed Woodpecker - BirdForum Opus

Alternative name: Grey-faced Woodpecker,
Disambiguation: The African Eastern Grey Woodpecker is also sometimes known as Grey-headed Woodpecker.

P. c. canus, male
Photo © by Pavlik
Saratov, Russia, May 2001
Picus canus

Includes Black-naped Woodpecker


P. c. canus, female
Photo © by Cristian Mihai
Mogoșoaia, Romania, April 2010

Nominate subspecies: length 28–33 cm (11–13 in), wingspan 38–40 cm, weight 125–200 g
Green wings and mantle; dull yellow-green rump; tail blackish-brown; head mostly pure grey; breast and belly slightly green-tinged grey. Narrow black moustacial stripe, narrow black lores (but not black behind eyes), and eyes are dark. Bill grey, often with a yellow-tinged base; legs dark grey.
The male has a small red area from the peak of the crown towards the bill. The female is pure grey here.
See also Subspecies, below, for the extensive infraspecific variation.

Similar species

Eurasian Green Woodpecker is about 20% larger, with a full red crown in both sexes, and black lores; the rump is also a brighter yellow.


Black-naped Woodpecker P. c. [guerini] sanguiniceps, male
Photo © by Alok Tewari
Sat Tal Forest, Alt. 5500 ft., Dist. Nainital, Uttarakhand Himalayas, India, October-2018

Main breeding range lies from Europe east to Sakhalin, Hokkaido, throughout much of China, the Himalayas and southeast China south to Vietnam.

In Europe breeds in southern Scandinavia and central and eastern Europe south to northern Greece and eastwards to the Urals. Also has a patchy distribution further west breeding in west and central France, Luxembourg and central and southern Germany, northern Switzerland, northern Italy and more widely in Austria.

Recently found to be breeding in northeastern and western Turkey. In the east of range there are isolated populations in north-east India, on Taiwan and Hainan, and the mountains of Malaysia and Sumatra.

Mainly resident but short-distance dispersal common and altitudinal movements recorded. Very rarely seen outside breeding range but has been recorded in the Spanish Pyrenees, the Netherlands and Turkey, and in March 1992 reported in Circeo National Park, Italy, well south of known Italian range.


Complex; recently split into three species by BirdLife International[1], though not yet by other authorities[2][3].


Black-naped Woodpecker P. c. [guerini] sanguiniceps, female
Photo © by Alok Tewari
YSS Ashram, Dwarahat, Alt. 5000 ft., Dist. Almora, Uttarakhand Himalayas, India, October-2018
Sumatran Woodpecker P. [c.] dedemi
Photo © by Tedi Wahyudi
Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, August 2016

11 subspecies are recognised by Clements[2] and IOC[3], listed below under the three species into which BirdLife International divide it:[1]

  • Picus canus group (Grey-headed Woodpecker; northern Eurasia)
    • P. c. canus - northern and central Europe to western Siberia
      Described above
    • P. c. jessoensis - eastern Siberia to north-eastern China, Korea and northern Japan
      Greyer mantle
  • Picus guerini group (Black-naped Woodpecker; upland southern and eastern Asia)
    Black crown and nape with red forecrown in males, black crown and nape in females; more strongly green-grey underparts; wings green in Chinese subspecies, tinged yellowish-green in Himalayan subspecies, and increasing orangey-brown toned in Indochinese subspecies.
    • P. c. kogo - central China
    • P. c. guerini - eastern China
    • P. c. sobrinus - south-eastern China and north-eastern Vietnam
    • P. c. tancolo - Hainan and Taiwan
    • P. c. sordidior - south-eastern Tibet and south-western China to north-eastern Burma
    • P. c. sanguiniceps - western Himalayas
    • P. c. hessei - eastern Himalayas to Burma and Indochina
    • P. c. robinsoni - western Malaysia
  • Picus dedemi (Sumatran Woodpecker; endemic, Sumatra)
    Small; mantle, underparts, and wings dark red-brown; crown and nape black.


Grey-headed Woodpecker occurs in diverse woodlands including coniferous taiga forest, temperate deciduous woodland and subtropical forest, bamboo groves. Where both occur usually found in more upland areas than Green Woodpecker. In Scandinavia found in coniferous forest mixed with aspen but in central Europe found in deciduous and riparian forest, small woods in farmland, parks and large gardens; in Balkans also in mixed mountain forests. Black-naped Woodpecker and Sumatran Woodpecker occur in middle to higher elevation (900–2600 m altitude) montane forests.



Like other species of Picus, often feeds on the ground, usually solitary. Though the diet consists mostly of ants, also takes other food sources and will come to bird feeders in winter, taking peanuts and suet.


Drums more frequently than Green Woodpecker

Late afternoon calls in the forest as bird was moving from one perch to another. Occasional calls by Black-lored Tit can be heard in the background. Subspecies P. c. guerni :
Recording © by Alok Tewari
Sat Tal forest, alt. 1700 m (5500 ft.), Uttarakhand Himalayas, India, April-2017

Characteristic drumming by a male (subspecies P. c. guerni) followed by a call is heard in the clip below :
Recording © by Alok Tewari
Ranikhet Hill Station, Alt. 6500 ft., Uttarakhand Himalayas, India, 10 April 2019

Another type of call given when it arrived at the nightly roost, after sunset, 7.10 pm
Recording © by Alok Tewari
Dalhousie, Altitude 6900 feet, Chamba, Himachal Pradesh, Himalayas, India, 1 June 2023


  1. Grey-faced Woodpecker (Picus canus) is being split. BirdLife International.
  2. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  3. Gill, F and D Donsker (Eds). 2017. IOC World Bird Names (version 7.1). Available at http://www.worldbirdnames.org/.
  4. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive (retrieved November 2015)

Recommended Citation

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