Blood woodpecker

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Blood woodpecker
Blood woodpecker (Dendrocopos syriacus)

Blood woodpecker ( Dendrocopos syriacus )

Order : Woodpecker birds (Piciformes)
Family : Woodpeckers (Picidae)
Subfamily : Real woodpeckers (Picinae)
Genre : Great spotted woodpecker ( Dendrocopos )
Type : Blood woodpecker
Scientific name
Dendrocopos syriacus
( Hemprich & Ehrenberg , 1833)

The blood Woodpecker ( Dendrocopos syriacus ) belongs to the subfamily of genuine woodpeckers (Picinae). It is very closely related to the great spotted woodpecker ( Dendrocopos major ), with which it occasionally occurs sympatric and hybridizes . Originally only distributed in the near and most westerly fringes of the Middle East , the species expanded its breeding area over the Balkans to eastern and northeastern Central Europe towards the end of the 19th century . While the north and west expansion has largely come to a standstill, the area expansion towards the east continues unabated.

It differs from the very similar great spotted woodpecker in the more pinkish-red color tones in the rump area and in the lack of the closed bridle strap towards the neck.

The blood woodpecker is the most pronounced cultural descendant among the European woodpeckers. He prefers to settle in regions close to settlement, often gardens, parks, orchards and plantations, cemeteries or other landscapes remodeled by humans. It feeds almost equally on fruits, nuts and kernels, as well as on invertebrates, mainly insects. It is one of the woodpeckers with the largest vegetarian diet. He is largely a resident bird.

Although some coloring variants have been described, no subspecies are recognized. The species is currently not considered endangered.


The predominantly black and white contrasting overall impression of the blood woodpecker is typical for the genus of the great spotted woodpecker. It is very similar to the best-known representative of this genus, the great spotted woodpecker ( Dendrocopos major ). In both sexes of the blood woodpecker, large white shoulder surfaces are embedded in the matt black top. Chest, belly and flanks are dirty white-yellowish, the flanks are indistinctly dark with vertical lines. The black hand wings are clearly banded in white, with the uppermost white wing band mostly connected to the shoulder patches. The support tail is black, the outer tail feathers have a white, individually varying banding. The cheeks and sides of the neck are white with a slight yellowish tinge; These light-colored plumage parts of the head are limited by a clear black strap and a black stripe of beard, as well as on the parting by a black head plate, which in the female continues over the neck to the black back plumage, in the male, however, is interrupted by a clear, brick-red neck mark. The rein tape has no connection to the black neck plumage. The forehead is white in both sexes, often pure white, but sometimes also slightly yellow. The eyes are black, the beak is light gray. The rump and the under tail-coverts are pink.

Females differ from males in the lack of red neck color and a somewhat duller color tone. Both sexes are identical in weight and size. The juvenile plumage is more dull and shaggy, the individual plumage areas are less sharply delimited in terms of color. Both sexes wear a red headstock in their youthful dress, while the neck section is also black in the male. The flanks, in particular, are clearly dotted longitudinally, and scattered red speckles can often be seen on the chest of young male blood woodpeckers.

Biometric data

With a body length of around 23 centimeters, the blood woodpecker is one of the medium-sized woodpeckers. It is as big as a great spotted woodpecker. The wingspan measures between 34 and 39 centimeters. On average, adult blood woodpeckers weigh around 80 grams.

Possible confusion

Blood woodpecker, young male bird
Great Spotted Woodpecker, adult male

Although the black woodpecker and the great spotted woodpecker are very similar to each other, there are good distinguishing features that allow a reliable field ornithological determination with sufficient visibility and observation conditions. The two types differ most clearly in the facial drawing. In the great spotted woodpecker, the white patch on the cheek is framed by the strap that extends to the neck, in the case of the blood woodpecker this rein is open, so that the face appears whiter overall. The red patch on the neck of the male is larger in the blood woodpecker; it reaches into the lower part of the vertex, and the red is somewhat lighter than that of the sister species . The white forehead badge is also somewhat more extensive in the blood woodpecker. If you see seated woodpeckers from behind, you will notice a cross drawing in the great spotted woodpecker, which is formed from the black neck band and the reins that merge into this band; in the blood woodpecker only the narrow neck band can be seen. Flying woodpeckers are best recognized by their tail feathers or the drawing of their rump. The outer tail feathers of the great spotted woodpecker, especially their outer plumes, are predominantly white, those of the blood woodpecker are black with a few white spots. In the great spotted woodpecker, the red color of the rump and the under tail-coverts is extensive and more intense deep red, while these plumage areas in the blood woodpecker have a pale red or pinkish color.

From the middle woodpecker ( Dendrocopos medius ), adult blood woodpeckers can be easily distinguished by their size and the red apex plate present in both sexes of the middle woodpecker. However, juvenile individuals can cause identification problems, since the crown part is colored red even in young blood woodpeckers. In addition to the size, the most important distinguishing features are the outer control feathers, which in the middle woodpecker have a lot of white, but in the blood woodpecker are mostly black.

In some areas of the Balkans and Transcaucasia the breeding areas of the blood woodpecker come in close geographical proximity to those of the white-backed woodpecker ; however, the two species live in largely different habitats. Both sexes of the white-backed woodpecker can be easily distinguished from the blood woodpecker by the complete lack of white shoulder markings.


All vocalizations of the blood woodpecker are very similar to those of the great spotted woodpecker, but with some experience they can be distinguished quite well. The most common call of both types is a single "kjüg", or "dschi (r) k", the so-called kixen , which is uttered very often at short intervals . In the case of the blood woodpecker, this sound sounds soft, a little squeaky, not metallically hard as in the case of the great spotted woodpecker. Gorman compares the sound with the noise a squeak doll makes. This sound is uttered by both sexes in different situations, both while sitting and while flying. In addition, blood woodpeckers have a number of mostly short, sharp calls such as kip-kip , which can be lined up in long sequences in aroused situations. Sexually motivated calls sound like kwiiieep or quuiieg . The young are only acoustically noticeable during the feeding phases, but their squeaking is quieter than that of great spotted woodpecker nestlings.

Blood woodpeckers drum a little less often than great spotted woodpeckers, but the drum rolls last a little longer than those of the sister species. They consist of up to 30 beats; Occasionally there is a small pause between the first and second beat. Both sexes drum, but the females less often, quieter and shorter. Occasionally females drum while they are still rearing their young.


Breeding occurrence of the blood woodpecker. The rapid expansion of the area to the north has largely come to a standstill. To the east, the species expands beyond the Don and Volga towards Kazakhstan , from where brood records have been available since 2010.

The distribution of the species is limited to a comparatively small central and western Palearctic area, which extends from southeastern Iran , parts of Iraq , Syria , Lebanon and Israel via Turkey northward to northeastern Central Europe. An occurrence in the southeast of Iran, near the border with Pakistan , which is largely isolated from the closed breeding area , touches the oriental fauna region . The breeding areas in the Caucasus states are also likely to belong to the original range . Except on Thassos , Samothrace and Limnos , the species does not seem to breed on any other Mediterranean island.

In Europe, large parts of the Balkan Peninsula , Hungary and Slovakia as well as the eastern half of Slovenia , eastern Austria , eastern and central Czech Republic , southern and central Poland and some southern areas of Belarus are inhabited by this species. This woodpecker is also a breeding bird in large parts of Ukraine and Moldova . It has not yet been confirmed whether there are breeding occurrences in the Crimea .

In Germany there have been some breeding season observations, for example in 1982 near Köthen , but no breeding record has yet been provided. However, the closest breeding sites in the Czech Republic are less than 50 kilometers from German territory. On January 28, 2016, the Bavarian radio reported that a blood woodpecker had been observed in a private garden in Kronach .


Blood woodpeckers, once established, are largely loyal to their place and, if possible, remain in the breeding area even in severe winters. The rapid spread to southern and central Europe, however, shows a great willingness to be mobile. Resettlements can take place 100 or more kilometers away from the nearest breeding site; it is almost always young birds that migrate over such distances .

Area expansion of the blood woodpecker

Blood woodpecker

The blood woodpecker expanded its breeding area to the west, north and northeast, especially in the 20th century. Habitat and climate changes are named as reasons for this area expansion. The eponymous specimen comes from Syria, was collected by the zoologists Hemprich and Ehrenberg and described by Ehrenberg in 1833 after Hemprich's death. Nothing is known about the extent of the breeding area of ​​the species at this time or about the breeding habitat at that time. In 1890 a specimen from northern Bulgaria was identified as a blood woodpecker ; this evidence is considered to be the first record of the species in Europe, but the blood woodpecker must have immigrated to the southern and southwestern Balkan areas earlier, as only a few years later there were apparently good populations in southern Serbia. The blood woodpecker was first detected in the Great Hungarian Plain in 1928; In the next 20 years the species populated this area and adjacent areas in today's Croatia and northern Serbia to a large extent. The first observation in Austria was made in 1951 on the northern edge of Lake Neusiedl, and at that time the species was probably already a widespread breeding bird in the wider area around the lake. Simultaneously with the north and north-west expansion, the blood woodpecker expanded its breeding area to the southern Balkan peninsula. In the following years the blood woodpecker established itself in large parts of Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Since the 1980s, the northern movement has slowed significantly, while the eastern expansion towards eastern Ukraine and Crimea continues. Today the northern boundary of the species is near Białystok in northeastern Poland, but visual observations can also be made from areas in the Gdańsk Bay , especially on the Hel .

At the moment, area expansions are reported mainly from Belarus, where the pressure to expand is apparently coming from Ukrainian woodpeckers. The species was also able to expand widely to the east. The limit of distribution in this area is already east of the Volga . A far forward distribution area was reported in 2010 from the northwest of Kazakhstan . However, the northern movement has largely stalled. It is assumed that the blood woodpecker has reached its climate-related distribution barrier when it reaches the 18-degree July isotherm . The Alps and the Adriatic Sea are evidently an obstacle to a settlement that has not yet taken place in northern Italy and the Apennine peninsula .


Dendrocopos syriacus jumping.jpg

In its regions of origin, the blood woodpecker lives in sparse, montane oak forests and loose groves made of poplars , willows , oriental plane trees and nut trees . He avoids both open juniper and pine forests and closed deciduous and coniferous forests. Even in its area of ​​origin it came and still occurs in cultivated landscapes such as orchards, parks, cemeteries or vineyards. This disposition to colonize man-made spaces apparently made it possible for the species to penetrate into a niche that was not yet fully used by other woodpeckers . In its areas of expansion, the blood woodpecker inhabits almost exclusively human-shaped landscape structures such as orchards, parks, cemeteries, the edges of settlements, small groups of trees and avenues. His territories often extend over a few gardens, between which there may be an unusable area for him. Very often he visits or breeds in orchards. Those with stone fruits such as apricots , cherries or plums are preferred, and it can often be seen in mulberry , walnut or almond trees . Of all the woodpeckers in Europe, he is the most pronounced cultural follower .

In Europe, the blood woodpecker occurs mainly at low altitudes of up to 400 meters. Occasionally broods from higher altitudes were reported, for example from Slovakia and Bulgaria (800 meters above sea ​​level and 1,000 meters above sea level , respectively). In its original range in Iran there are breeding occurrences over 2,000 meters, but permanent settlement and cultivation in this region also extend to these heights. In many lower secondary habitats , the blood woodpecker occurs sympatric with the great spotted woodpecker.


The blood woodpecker is a representative of the rather extensive genus Dendrocopos , in which small to medium-sized woodpeckers with predominantly black and white plumage are grouped together. Together with the white-winged woodpecker ( D. leucopterus ), great spotted woodpecker ( D. major ), Himalayan woodpecker ( D. himalayensis ) and the tamarisk woodpecker ( D. assimilis ), it forms a super species . The 20 representatives of the genus Dendrocopos occur in Eurasia and North Africa. Until a few years ago Dendrocopos was united with related, especially nearctic species, in the genus Picoides . Overall, the relationships between these two genres and within the genres themselves are the subject of scientific research and discussion.

It is also disputed whether there are subspecies . The HBW does not distinguish between subspecies, according to other authors, in addition to the nominate form , at least two subspecies, namely D. s. milleri and D. s. to distinguish transcaucasicus . The first occurs mainly in eastern Iran, the second in the Caucasus regions. Other named subspecies such as balcanicus or romanicus are regionally widespread color variants.


Mixed breeds between the Blood Woodpecker and the Great Spotted Woodpecker are not uncommon. The fertile boys show characteristics of both parents. Especially the facial markings, the intensity and color of the red parts of the plumage as well as the extent of the white markings on the tail feathers can provide information about hybridization. Possibly the not recognized subspecies romanicus and balcanicus are based on mixed breeds.


Blood woodpecker

The blood woodpecker eats roughly equal parts of vegetable and animal food, although the proportions can shift a little depending on the season. The food composition of this species differs from all other European woodpecker species, which also consume plant-based food, but not to this extent and not relatively evenly distributed over the entire year. Only in the great spotted woodpecker can vegetables reach a similarly high proportion seasonally. The young of the blood woodpecker are also provided with a relatively high proportion of plant-based food. The blood woodpecker prefers ripe stone fruits such as cherries, apricots, peaches and plums; But apples, pears, many types of berries, the fruits of the mulberry tree as well as grapes, figs and olives are often consumed. In autumn and winter hazelnuts , walnuts as well as pistachios , almonds and pine nuts can become the main food. In the case of larger stone fruits, the blood woodpecker not only uses the pulp, but also the seeds contained in the stone. Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are also part of the vegetarian food components of this species. Tree saps, especially those from maple species , pines and pine trees , are also consumed in spring .

The animal food content does not differ significantly from that of the great spotted woodpecker. The insect species living on the surface and their stages of development clearly outweigh those that occur in rotten wood or under the tree bark. Beetles, for example cockchafer , butterflies and butterfly caterpillars, moths , ants , crickets , wasps and flies make up the majority of the animal diet.Millipedes , spiders , various plant lice , worms and snails also belong to the food spectrum of the species.

Food acquisition

The blood woodpecker is similar to the great spotted woodpecker in terms of food acquisition, but its behavior is in some respects less developed than that of its close relative. Blood woodpeckers do not seem to use real forges , and the ringing of sap-growing trees has not yet been observed, although sap that escapes from bark injuries or from ringing activities of other woodpeckers is exploited.

The blood woodpecker looks for food both on the ground and in all trunk and branch regions up to the top of tall trees. However, lower trunk areas and strong branches are preferred. The animal food components are obtained primarily by collecting the prey on trunk and branch surfaces as well as by systematic poking; the chopping is not very profound; usually only parts of the bark are removed or the outermost layer of sapwood is processed down to a little more than one centimeter. When looking for food in the trunk and branch area, the blood woodpecker hops both legs up and down the trunk. Relatively often, blood woodpeckers also prey on flying insects through short flight misses. The species can cover considerable flight distances between the feeding grounds during the daily foraging. The fruit and nut food is collected both directly from the fruit-bearing trees and shrubs and on the ground. To open nuts or stone fruit kernels, the blood woodpecker uses gaps in coarse-barked trees or cracks in walls, in which he clamps the food objects. Adapting such forges to the size of the object to be fixed has not yet been established. Occasionally, blood woodpeckers have been observed creating food depots; However, it is still unclear whether this behavior is regularly practiced when there is excess food.


Activity and comfort behavior

Dendrocopos syriacus, Israel 7.jpg

Like all woodpeckers, the blood woodpecker is diurnal; the activity range varies little seasonally from sunrise to sunset. The activity peaks in the early morning and late afternoon lie within this range. Around noon, the species takes an extended rest and cleaning phase, during which, at least occasionally, the sleeping cave can be visited. Bad weather can shorten the activity time. To sleep, blood woodpeckers go to caves; when resting during the midday hours they cling to a vertical trunk, the head slightly retracted and the plumage raised. When sleeping, the head is tucked under the right wing. Blood woodpeckers brush and groom their plumage extensively, especially during the noon hours; The individual feathers of the large plumage are nibbled towards the tip and pulled through the beak several times; when scratching, the head is brought up to the rhythmically moving foot and turned so that the desired point is reached. Areas that cannot be reached as a result can also be rubbed on a surface. When bathing, the plumage is largely soaked and then dried with slightly hanging wings; sunbathing with ruffled plumage has also been described several times.

Settlement density and territorial behavior

The space requirement of the blood woodpecker is very large, the settlement density of this species is correspondingly low. In the most favorable feeding areas the area size is about one square kilometer; mostly in good blood woodpecker habitats on 10 square kilometers only 3 to 5 breeding areas are occupied. In comparison, the population density of the great spotted woodpecker can be more than ten times higher. Occasionally, blood woodpeckers breed in relatively close proximity of less than 50 meters to each other, but the distances between the nesting holes are usually significantly greater. The breeding and feeding grounds, which are often highly fragmented, can be made up of a number of sub-areas, between which there are large areas that cannot be used by the woodpecker - for example built-up areas. The territorial boundaries are largely fluid, conspecifics and the related great spotted woodpecker are only attacked in the vicinity of key locations, such as cheap food sources, frequently visited blacksmiths, sleeping caves or breeding caves and, if possible, driven away. The outer regions can overlap over a relatively large area with the territories of other blood woodpeckers or with great spotted woodpecker territories without any disputes with the respective territory owners. In its optimal areas, the blood woodpecker seems to prevail over the great spotted woodpecker. In any case, it was observed during the immigration phase that great spotted woodpeckers usually vacated garden areas when they were claimed by blood woodpeckers. Unmated conspecifics are largely tolerated. Cave competitors, especially the Star, are attacked and bullied by the blood woodpecker intensively throughout the year. Outside the breeding season, the territoriality of this woodpecker is limited to the use of some sleeping caves, while the feeding grounds are shared with other conspecifics or other great spotted woodpeckers.

Breeding biology

Courtship and pairing

Blood woodpeckers become sexually mature at the end of their first year of life; they lead a monogamous breeding season marriage. The pair bond becomes looser after the breeding season, but breeding pairs often stay together in the winter area. The mating of last year's breeding partners seems to be frequent. The courtship begins with loud calls, pursuit flights and cave shows in early March and reaches its peak in the last days of March and early April. When the cave construction begins, the pair formation is complete.

Nesting cavity

Blood woodpeckers do not create new nesting holes every year; often their own or those of other woodpeckers are only cleaned and the inside is padded with new chips. The nesting trees can be very different, they correspond to the species occurring in the breeding habitat. Knocked-out branches or rotten spots are almost always used to create caves; only in tree species with particularly soft woods, such as poplars, trees of gods or mulberry trees, are nesting or sleeping caves also cut into healthy wood. Occasionally, nesting holes are created in telegraph poles, in the rods of draw wells or in wooden structures. The approach altitude varies greatly, it can be less than one meter, but it can also be almost 20 meters, but is usually between two and four meters.

Both partners participate in building the nest, the male a little more than the female. The round entrance hole has a diameter of 4 to 5 centimeters, the depth of the cave is on average almost 35 centimeters with a width of about 11.5 centimeters.

Clutch and brood

Egg-laying can begin as early as mid-March, and even a little earlier in the Iranian areas of distribution. However, the breeding peak is in the middle of April, late broods last until late May or early June. A second clutch occurs only after an early clutch loss or due to massive disruption at the nesting site. The clutch consists of 3 to 7, usually 4 to 5 glossy, pure white, elliptical eggs with an average size of 25 × 20 millimeters. They are therefore slightly smaller than those of the great spotted woodpecker, from which they are otherwise indistinguishable.

The laying interval is one day, the complete clutch is only incubated firmly. Both partners breed, the male however more often and always during the night. The chicks hatch after an average of 10 days and leave the nest cavity after 24 days. Both parents feed and row during the entire nestling period. After the fledgling, the young birds are quickly lured away from the breeding cave, but they are fed and looked after by both parents for at least another 14 days.


Dendrocopos syriacus, Israel 5.jpg

No precise information is known about the population situation of the species in the distribution areas in the Near and Middle East. The area populated in Europe in the 20th century now takes up about 50 percent of the total breeding area of ​​the species. The total population in Europe is estimated at more than 530,000 breeding pairs. The European population trend seems to be slightly negative, which is mainly due to declines in the key distribution areas in Romania and especially in Turkey as well as the overall slowed or stalled wave of propagation. In most European countries, however, stocks are stable or are still increasing slightly. In the north-east and east (Poland, Belarus and Ukraine) strong growth rates can still be recorded. The blood woodpecker does not breed in Germany and Switzerland, in eastern and south-eastern Austria the breeding population is estimated at around 3,000 pairs. Overall, the species’s population is seen as secure and stable.


Sources cited

  1. a b Gorman (2004) p. 110
  2. Bergmann / Helb (1982) p. 216
  3. a b c Gorman (2004) p. 115
  4. Blume (1997) p. 70
  5. First blood woodpecker sighted in Germany ( Memento from April 16, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  6. a b Gorman (2004) p. 116
  7. HBV Vol. 9 (1994) p. 1048
  8. HBV Vol. 9 (1994) p. 1047
  9. a b Dvorak et al. (1993) p. 261
  10. ^ IUCN distribution map
  11. Winkler, H., Christie, DA & de Juana, E. (2014). Syrian Woodpecker (Dendrocopos syriacus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, DA & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on July 30, 2014).
  12. HBV Vol. 9 (1994) p. 1048
  13. Gorman (2004) p. 111
  14. HBV Vol. 9 (1994) p. 989 f.
  15. HBW (2002) Vol. 7
  16. a b Gorman (2004) p. 108
  17. Gorman (2004) p. 112
  18. HBV Vol. 9 (1994) p. 1051 and 1018
  19. Gorman (2004) p. 113
  20. Winkler (1995) p. 277
  21. Winkler (1995) p. 274
  22. a b c HBV Vol. 9 (1994) p. 1049
  23. Blume (1997) p. 70
  24. a b Gorman (2004) p. 114
  25. Data sheet from Birdlife (see web links)


Web links

Commons : Blood Woodpecker  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Blood Woodpecker  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on December 21, 2007 in this version .