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What is a Black Woodpecker?

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  • Written By: Bethney Foster
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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The black woodpecker is one of the world’s largest woodpeckers. Scientifically known as Dryocopus martius, the black woodpecker is native to Europe and parts of Asia. It is about 17 to 18 inches (45 to 47 cm) tall and weighs a little more than a half-pound (300 grams). With nearly all black plumage, the bird is non-migratory.

The black woodpecker is often described as being similar in appearance to a crow. The only coloring apart from its black feathers is a crown of red at the top of the head. The entire crown of the male bird is red, while the female bird only has a patch of red at the back of her head.

The bird’s beak is a light gray, and the eyes are white. A black woodpecker’s wingspan can reach 33 inches (84 cm). With a beak of about 2.5 inches (6.3 cm) in length, the black woodpecker’s diet consists of ants and beetles, both the adults and the larvae. The bird finds its food by using its long bill to excavate into dead trees.

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The black woodpecker is not graceful in flight, but flaps its wings more than many birds and flies with its head held up. It doesn’t dip while in flight, as many woodpecker species do, but flies in a straight pattern. While flying and upon landing, it often makes a shrill crying sound. The bird also has a whistle that it repeats twice, though this call is most often used when it is not in flight.

The breeding population of black woodpeckers in Europe is estimated at more than 740,000. With its range in Europe expanding, the black woodpecker can also be found in some parts of Asia. The bird’s favorite habitat is mature coniferous forests.

The female bird broods only once per year, in early to mid-April, depending on her location. The breeding time is only about 13 days. The black woodpecker lays her four to six eggs in a hole in a tree or utility pole, sometimes as much as 82 feet (25 meters) off the ground. She incubates the eggs for 12 to 14 days, and after 24 to 28 days the birds will fledge.

As the population of the black woodpecker is holding steady and its range is actually increasing, there is little concern about its conservation status. It is the largest of the woodpeckers in its range and is probably the second largest woodpecker in the world. The largest woodpecker in the world is thought to be the great slaty woodpecker, with the likely extinctions of the ivory-billed and imperial woodpeckers.

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