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Ground Woodpecker - BirdForum Opus

Photo by xmesox
South Africa, May, 2017
Geocolaptes olivaceus


Photo by wim de groot
South Africa, January 2006

Length 22-30 cm (8½11¾ in), mass 105-134 g.

Adult male: Head grey, gradually becoming browner towards the nape, with a malar stripe that is blackish with red flecks. The wings and back are olive-brown with sparse pale yellow spots on the back. The tail is olive-brown with golden-yellow shafts. The rump is pinkish-red, and the breast and belly are pale pinkish buff. The bill is black, the inner iris is pale cream to yellow, and the outer iris is pink. The legs and feet are dark grey.

Adult female: Similar to the male, but without an obvious malar stripe.

Juvenile: Similar to the adult female, but the eyes are grey and the rump and underparts are less red.


Western, southern and eastern South Africa, Lesotho and western eSwatini.


This is a monotypic species[1], although some authorities have recognised subspecies based on variation in the shade of the reddish plumage and the intensity of the barring on the flanks and undertail.


Rocky grasslands and shrublands (usually tree-less) on slopes in hills and mountains. Digs nesting holes in earth banks, so often frequents road cuttings and dongas.



Ground Woodpeckers forage on the ground for (almost exclusively) ants. They rarely perch in trees or shrubs, preferring rocks or mounds. Usually in pairs or faily groups of up to six birds which roost in nest-holes year-round.


Monogamous and territorial; probably breeds co-operatively. Nest burrows 0.5-1 m long are excavated by both sexes. Two to four eggs are laid July to December.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2016. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2016, with updates to August 2016. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Hockey, PAR, WRJ Dean, and PG Ryan, eds. 2005. Roberts' Birds of Southern Africa. 7th ed. Cape Town: John Voelcker Bird Book Fund. ISBN 978-0620340533

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