White-backed woodpecker

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White-backed woodpecker
Photo of a male woodpecker
Male D. leucotos
Drawing of a pair of woodpeckers
D. leucotos pair
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Piciformes
Family: Picidae
Genus: Dendrocopos
D. leucotos
Binomial name
Dendrocopos leucotos
(Bechstein, 1802)
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos distribution map.png
White-backed Woodpecker range[2]
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos distribution in Europe map.png
White-backed Woodpecker range in Europe and western Asia[2]

The white-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos) is a Eurasian woodpecker belonging to the genus Dendrocopos.


The white-backed woodpecker was described by the German naturalist Johann Matthäus Bechstein in 1802 under the binomial name Picus leucotos.[3] The specific epithet leucotos combines the Classical Greek leukos meaning "white" and -nōtos meaning "-backed".[4] The type locality is Silesia, a historical region mainly located in Poland.[5] The species is now placed in the genus Dendrocopos that was introduced by the German naturalist Carl Ludwig Koch in 1816.[6][7]

Twelve subspecies are recognised.[7]

  • D. l. leucotos (Bechstein, 1802) – widespread across Eurasia from north, central and eastern Europe to northeast Asia, Korea and Sakhalin
  • D. l. uralensis (Malherbe, 1860) – west Ural Mountains to Lake Baikal
  • D. l. lilfordi (Sharpe & Dresser, 1871) – Pyrenees to Asia Minor, Caucasus and Transcaucasia
  • D. l. tangi Cheng, 1956 – Sichuan province, western China
  • D. l. subcirris (Stejneger, 1886) – Hokkaido, northern Japan
  • D. l. stejnegeri (Kuroda, 1921) – northern Honshū, Japan
  • D. l. namiyei (Stejneger, 1886) – south Honshū, Kyushu, Shikoku (Japan)
  • D. l. takahashii (Kuroda & Mori, 1920) – Ulleungdo Island (off eastern Korea)
  • D. l. quelpartensis (Kuroda & Mori, 1918) – Jeju Island (off South Korea)
  • D. l. owstoni (Ogawa, 1905) – Amami Ōshima Island in the northern Ryukyu Islands, Japan
  • D. l. fohkiensis (Buturlin, 1908) – mountains of Fujian province, southeast China
  • D. l. insularis (Gould, 1863) – Taiwan

The subspecies D. l. owstoni is sometimes considered a distinct species, the Amami woodpecker.[8]


It is the largest of the spotted woodpeckers in the western Palearctic, 24–26 cm long with wing-span 38–40 cm. The plumage is similar to the great spotted woodpecker, but with white bars across the wings rather than spots, and a white lower back. The male has a red crown, the female a black one.[9] Drumming by males is very loud, calls include a soft kiuk and a longer kweek.


The nominate race D. l. leucotos occurs in central and northern Europe, with the race D. l. lilfordi found in the Balkans and Turkey. Ten further races occur in the region eastwards as far as Korea and Japan. It is a scarce bird, requiring large tracts of mature deciduous forests with high amounts of standing and laying dead wood. Numbers have decreased in Nordic countries. In Sweden, its population decline has caused the Swedish government to enact protection for the species in the national Biodiversity Action Plan.[10]


Dendrocopos leucotos leucotos - MHNT

In the breeding season it excavates a nest hole about 7 cm wide and 30 cm deep in a decaying tree trunk. It lays three to five white eggs and incubates for 10–11 days. It lives predominantly on wood-boring beetles as well as their larvae, as well as other insects, nuts, seeds and berries.

Life Span[edit]

In the wild the white-backed Woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos) can survive between three to four years, while in captivity they can survive for approximately eleven years.[11]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2020). "Dendrocopos leucotos". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2020: e.T22727124A181844246. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22727124A181844246.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b BirdLife International and NatureServe (2014) Bird Species Distribution Maps of the World. 2014. Dendrocopos leucotos. In: IUCN 2014. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. http://www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 27 May 2015.
  3. ^ Bechstein, Johann Matthäus (1802). Ornithologisches Taschenbuch von und für Deutschland, oder, Kurze Beschreibung aller Vögel Deutschlands für Liebhaber dieses Theils der Naturgeschichte (in German). Leipzig: Carl Friedrich Enoch Richter. p. 66.
  4. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 225. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  5. ^ Peters, James Lee, ed. (1948). Check-List of Birds of the World. Vol. 6. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 189.
  6. ^ Koch, C.L. (1816). System der baierischen Zoologie (in German). Vol. 1. Nürnberg: Stein. pp. xxvii, 72.
  7. ^ a b Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (2020). "Woodpeckers". IOC World Bird List Version 10.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  8. ^ BirdLife International (2016). "Dendrocopos owstoni". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T22727132A94941890. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22727132A94941890.en. Retrieved 15 May 2020.
  9. ^ The Birds of the Western Palearctic [Abridged]. OUP. 1997. ISBN 0-19-854099-X.
  10. ^ National Biodiversity Action Plan of Sweden, Upsala (1999)
  11. ^ Cramp, Stanley (1986). Birds of Europe the Middle East and North Africa. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198575076.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gorman, Gerard (2004): Woodpeckers of Europe: A Study of the European Picidae. Bruce Coleman, UK. ISBN 1-872842-05-4.

External links[edit]