Picus viridis (Linnaeus, 1758)
Family: Piciformes > Picidae
The Green Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker species found in the UK. Its loud laughing call is behind the affectionate folk name of ‘yaffle’.
Green Woodpecker diet consists primarily of ants, and individuals may be seen feeding from an ant nest located in the short turf of a garden lawn or woodland ride. Both sexes have green plumage with a yellow rump and red cap; the red centre to the black ‘moustache’ distinguishes the male birds from females, which lack this feature.
Green Woodpeckers can be found across much of Britain, though favouring lowland habitats, but are absent from Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, together with much of the north-west of Scotland and the Scottish islands.
Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Green Woodpecker
Green Woodpecker identification is usually straightforward.
Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Green Woodpecker, provided by xeno-canto contributors.
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Status and Trends
Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.
This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.
Green Woodpecker populations rose steadily in Britain from 1966 until around 2008, except for a period of stability or shallow decline centred around 1980. There was considerable range expansion in central and eastern Scotland between the 1968-72 and 1988-91 atlas periods. Results from the 2007-11 Atlas indicated that expansion was continuing across England and Scotland, but not in Wales, where major retraction from some western regions was detected in 2008-11 (Balmer et al. 2013). Similarly, the BBS map of change in relative density between 1994-96 and 2007-09 indicated that there had been strong contrast between decreases in southwestern England and South Wales and increase elsewhere, especially in southeastern England. However, BBS trends suggest more recent shallow declines across England. There has been an increase across Europe since 1980 (PECBMS: PECBMS 2020a>). Following a review of its status in Europe, the species was moved from amber to the UK green list in 2015 (Eaton et al. 2015).
|UK breeding population||+8% increase (1995–2020)|
Green Woodpeckers are distributed fairly continuously across southern England but become patchy in west Wales, northern England and in south-central Scotland. They are absent from the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and from Ireland.
Occupied 10-km squares in UK
|No. occupied in breeding season||1639|
|% occupied in breeding season||54|
|No. occupied in winter||1556|
|% occupied in winter||52|
European Distribution Map
Breeding Season Habitats
|Most frequent in||Deciduous Wood|
Relative frequency by habitat
Overall, the change in breeding range size is relatively small, but this conceals a clear east–west divide in trends, with declining tetrad occupancy in Wales and southwest England contrasting strongly with increasing tetrad occupancy in central and eastern England.
Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK
|% change in range in breeding season (1968–72 to 2008–11)||+0.7%|
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)||+14.5%|
Green Woodpeckers are widely recorded throughout the year, especially in spring when highly vocal, and post-breeding.
Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.
Lifecycle and body size information about Green Woodpecker, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.
|Wing Length||Adults||163.5±3.6 | Range 158–169mm, N=522|
|Juveniles||161.1±3.9 | Range 155-167mm, N=480|
|Males||163±3.8 | Range 158–168mm, N=267|
|Females||164.1±3.4 | Range 159–169mm, N=250|
|Body Weight||Adults||189±11.49 | Range 171–206g, N=439|
|Juveniles||181±14.668 | Range 156–204g, N=394|
|Males||188±11.28 | Range 170–204g, N=226|
|Females||190±11.75 | Range 171–209g, N=209|
Feather measurements and photos on featherbase
|Field Codes||2-letter: G. | 5-letter code: GREWO | Euring: 8560|
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Interpretation and scientific publications about Green Woodpecker from BTO scientists.
Causes of change
There is little evidence available regarding the demographic or ecological causes of population increase in this species.
Further information on causes of change
No information on demographic trends for this species is available. The ecological factors underlying the increase in population size are not yet known but, given the species' susceptibility to cold weather, it may be related to climate change. Smith (2007) found that Green Woodpeckers were not limited by nest-sites in his study woods in southern England and linked the upward trend in numbers to the availability of food outside the woods and higher survival due to a series of mild winters.
Information about conservation actions
This species has been increasing until recently so is not a species of conservation concern and conservation actions are not currently required in most areas of the UK. However, the recent slight decline and losses in western regions do raise potential concerns.
A radiotracking study following a breeding pair in Dorset for over a month found that foraging was, unsurprisingly, strongly influenced by the abundance of ants (especially Lasius flavius), which were most abundant in areas of short grass with high plant richness such as sheep grazed land and garden lawns; arable and cattle grazed fields were avoided by the birds (Alder & Marsden 2010). Hence provision of similar natural or semi-natural grassland habitats may be important, in particular in the areas where this species is declining.
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