ID of Syrian Woodpecker

Having absolutely no opportunity for birding at the moment, I decided rather to go through my notes of the Syrian Woodpecker, which I had taken last Saturday. Yes, I know, it´s the fourth post about this woodpecker in a row. However, I think that it is very important to pay more attention to the differentiation of Greater Spotted Woodpecker and Syrian Woodpecker. Both species look almost identical at first glance, though the identification is rather easy, when you know for what you should look out. Recently there had been some rumours on the internet that the Syrian Woodpecker might already be an overlooked breeder in Germany, which hadn´t yet been discovered, because birders hadn´t looked close enough on Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Therefore it makes sense to shed some light on how to identify a Syrian Woodpecker.



So what attracted my attention at the Kronach-bird (SW: Syrian Woodpecker; GSW: Great Spotted Woodpecker):

  • The jizz. When I first looked on the bird without considering any ID-features, I knew that this bird was not one of the normal GSW. I think that the subtle differences between GSW and SW let the latter appear to have a more "open face". This caused that the woodpecker looked even for the local residents strange, although they were not able to actually pin down what was looking strange. 
  • Most important ID-feature is the missing link between the black moustachial stripe and the neck. This is also visible from longer distances. Last Saturday the bird was identified from a very large distance (200 meters minimum).
  • The red on the neck is far more extensive reaching to the crown. I never thought that this would be so obvious in the field even without having a GSW nearby for comparing.
  • Finally the feathers at the base of the bill are white in SW instead of black in GSW. This is not so important, because you need to get very close for seeing it. Nevertheless, it supports the appearance of the "open face".
Syrian Woodpecker (left) - Great Spotted Woodpecker (right)
Syrian Woodpecker (left) - Great Spotted Woodpecker (right)
  • Generally SW has a more slender and longer bill, though this is difficult to judge in the field, at least in my opinion.
  • Furthermore, there are some faint dots on the flanks. The Kronach-bird showed also some dots on the breast, which could be seen well at the end, when it came closer.
  • The tail shows only very few white marks. Although this was visible in the field, I have no suitable pictures to illustrate this, because these marks are covered, when the wings are folded.
  • At the end I also want to draw some attention to the call. There is definitely an audible difference between SW and GSW, since the latter sounds lighter and also harder. This call made it a lot easier to track the bird down in the field. Unfortunately I haven´t managed some decent sound recordings, so I have to link you to xeno-canto.org.


Keeping aware of these features it should be possible to filter out good candidates for SW. I´m sure that we won´t have to wait long for the next record of this stunning species.



Svensson L., K. Mullarney, Zetterström D.: Der Kosmos Vogelführer - Alle Arten Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens, Stuttgart 2011. (german version of the Collins Bird Guide)

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