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The Hairy Woodpecker, Picoides villosus, is a member of the family Picadae.
The Hairy Woodpecker, Picoides villosus, is a member of the family Picadae.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Piciformes
Family: Picidae
Vigors, 1825

The avian family Picidae includes the woodpeckers, piculets and wrynecks. Members of this family are found worldwide, except for Australia, Madagascar, and the extreme polar regions. Most species live in forests or woodland habitats, although a few species are known to live in desert areas.

Family Picidae is just one of the eight families in the order Piciformes. Members of the order Piciformes, such as the jacamars, puffbirds, barbets, toucans and honeyguides, have traditionally been thought to be very closely related to the woodpeckers, piculets and wrynecks. Recent molecular studies has strengthened this view.

There are about over 200 species and about 30 genera in this family (for the full species list, see Woodpecker). Many species are threatened or endangered due to loss of habitat or habitat fragmentation. Two species of woodpeckers, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and the Imperial Woodpecker, have been considered extinct for about 30 years (there has been some controversy recently whether these species still exist).

Species of the family Picidae range in size from 8 cm to 58 cm in length. Most species possess predominantly white, black and brown feathers, although many piculets show a certain amount of gray and olive green. In woodpeckers, many species exhibit patches of red and yellow on their heads and bellies. Although the genders of a species tend to look alike, male woodpeckers will have brighter reds and yellows than the females.

Members of the family Picidae have strong bills for drilling and drumming on trees and long sticky tongues for extracting food. Woodpecker bills are typically longer, sharper and stronger than the bills of piculets and wrynecks, however their morphology is very similar. Due to their smaller bill size, many piculets and wrynecks will forage in decaying wood more often than woodpeckers. The long sticky tongues, which possess bristles, aid these birds in grabbing and extracting insects deep within a hole of a tree.

Woodpeckers, piculets and wrynecks all possess zygodactyl feet. Zygodacytl feet consist of four toes, two facing frontward and two facing back. This type of foot arrangement is good for grasping the limbs and trunks of trees. Members of this family can walk vertically up a tree trunk, which is beneficial for activities such as foraging for food or nest excavation.

The diet of these birds consists mainly of insects, such as ants and beetles, nuts, seeds, berries, some fruit and sap. Species may feed generally on all of these, or may specialize on one or two.

All members of the family Picidae nest in cavities. Woodpeckers and piculets will excavate their own nests, but wrynecks will not. The excavated nest is usually only lined from the wood chips produced as the hole was made. Many species of woodpeckers excavate one hole per breeding season, sometimes after multiple attempts. It takes around a month to finish the job. Abandoned holes are used by many other birds and animals, such as flying squirrels.

Members of Picidae are typically monogamous. A pair will work together to help build the nest, incubate the eggs and raise their altricial young. However, in most species the male does most of the nest excavation and takes the night shift while incubating the eggs. A nest will usually consist of 2-5 round white eggs. Since these birds are cavity nesters their eggs do not need to be camouflaged and the white color helps the parents to see them in dim light. The eggs are incubated for about 11-14 days before the chicks are born. It takes about 18-30 days before the young are ready to leave the nest.

Picidae species can either be sedentary or migratory. Many species are known to stay in the same area year around while others, such as the Eurasian Wryneck and the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, travel great distances from their breeding grounds to their wintering ground.


Systematics and evolution

The phylogeny has been updated according to new knowledge about convergence patterns and evolutionary history (Benz et al., 2006; Moore et al., 2006). Most notably, the relationship of the picine genera has been largely clarified, and it was determined that the Antillean Piculet is a surviving offshoot of proto-woodpeckers.

The evolutionary history of this group is not well documented, but the known fossils allow some preliminary conclusions: the earliest known modern picids were piculet-like forms of the Late Oligocene (c. 25 MYA). By that time, however, the group was already present in the Americas and Europe, and it is hypothesized that they actually evolved much earlier, maybe as early as the Early Eocene (50 MYA). The modern subfamilies appear to be rather young by comparison; until the mid-Miocene (10-15 MYA), all picids seem to have been small or mid-sized birds similar to a mixture between a piculet and a wryneck. An enigmatic form based on a coracoid found in Pliocene deposits of New Providence, Bahamas, has been described as Bathoceleus hyphalus and probably also is a woodpecker (Cracraft & Morony, 1969).

Prehistoric forms of the extant genera are treated in the corresponding genus articles.

Prehistoric taxa


  • Genus Palaeopicus (Late Oligocene of France)

Not assigned to subfamily

  • Picidae gen. et sp. indet. (Middle Miocene of New Mexico, USA)
  • Picidae gen. et sp. indet. (Late Miocene of Gargano Peninsula, Italy)
The Eurasian Wryneck ( Jynx torquilla), a relative of the woodpeckers
The Eurasian Wryneck ( Jynx torquilla), a relative of the woodpeckers

Subfamily Jynginae: Wrynecks

  • Genus Jynx
    • Eurasian Wryneck, Jynx torquilla
      Rufous-necked Wryneck, Jynx ruficollis

Subfamily Picumninae: Piculets

Genus Picumnus

  • Speckled Piculet, Picumnus innominatus (sometimes Vivia)
    Bar-breasted Piculet, Picumnus aurifrons
    Orinoco Piculet, Picumnus pumilus
    Lafresnaye's Piculet, Picumnus lafresnayi
    Golden-spangled Piculet, Picumnus exilis
    Black-spotted Piculet, Picumnus nigropunctatus
    Ecuadorian Piculet, Picumnus sclateri
    Scaled Piculet, Picumnus squamulatus
    White-bellied Piculet, Picumnus spilogaster
    Guianan Piculet, Picumnus minutissimus
    Spotted Piculet, Picumnus pygmaeus
    Speckle-chested Piculet, Picumnus steindachneri
    Varzea Piculet, Picumnus varzeae
    White-barred Piculet, Picumnus cirratus
    Ocellated Piculet, Picumnus dorbygnianus
    Ochre-collared Piculet, Picumnus temminckii
    White-wedged Piculet, Picumnus albosquamatus
    Rusty-necked Piculet, Picumnus fuscus
    Rufous-breasted Piculet, Picumnus rufiventris
    Tawny Piculet, Picumnus fulvescens
    Ochraceous Piculet, Picumnus limae
    Mottled Piculet, Picumnus nebulosus
    Plain-breasted Piculet, Picumnus castelnau
    Fine-barred Piculet, Picumnus subtilis
    Olivaceous Piculet, Picumnus olivaceus
    Grayish Piculet, Picumnus granadensis
    Chestnut Piculet, Picumnus cinnamomeus

Genus Verreauxia (sometimes included in Sasia)

  • African Piculet, Verreauxia africana

Genus Sasia

  • Rufous Piculet, Sasia abnormis
    White-browed Piculet, Sasia ochracea

Subfamily Nesoctitinae: Antillean Piculet

  • Genus Nesoctites
    • Antillean Piculet, Nesoctites micromegas

Subfamily Picinae: Woodpeckers

Unassigned fossil forms

  • Genus Palaeonerpes (Ogalalla Early Pliocene of Hitchcock County, USA) - possibly dendropicine
  • Genus Pliopicus (Early Pliocene of Kansas, USA) - possibly dendropicine
  • cf. Colaptes DMNH 1262 (Early Pliocene of Ainsworth, USA) - malarpicine?

Tribe Dendropicini

  • Genus Melanerpes
    • White Woodpecker, Melanerpes candidus
      Lewis' Woodpecker, Melanerpes lewis
      Guadeloupe Woodpecker, Melanerpes herminieri
      Puerto Rican Woodpecker, Melanerpes portoricensis
      Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus
      Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
      Golden-naped Woodpecker, Melanerpes chrysauchen
      Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Melanerpes pucherani
      Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Melanerpes cruentatus
      Yellow-fronted Woodpecker, Melanerpes flavifrons
      White-fronted Woodpecker, Melanerpes cactorum
      Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Melanerpes striatus
      Jamaican Woodpecker, Melanerpes radiolatus
      Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, Melanerpes chrysogenys
      Gray-breasted Woodpecker, Melanerpes hypopolius
      Yucatan Woodpecker, Melanerpes pygmaeus
      Red-crowned Woodpecker, Melanerpes rubricapillus
      Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Melanerpes hoffmannii
      Gila Woodpecker, Melanerpes uropygialis
      Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Melanerpes aurifrons
      Red-bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus
      West Indian Woodpecker, Melanerpes superciliaris
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius
  • Genus Sphyrapicus
    • Williamson's Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus thyroideus
      Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius
      Red-naped Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus nuchalis
      Red-breasted Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus ruber
  • Genus Xiphidiopicus
    • Cuban Woodpecker, Xiphidiopicus percussus (Placement in Dendropicini tentative)
  • Genus Dendropicos
    • Little Grey Woodpecker, Dendropicos elachus
      Speckle-breasted Woodpecker, Dendropicos poecilolaemus
      Abyssinian Woodpecker, Dendropicos abyssinicus
      Cardinal Woodpecker, Dendropicos fuscescens
      Gabon Woodpecker, Dendropicos gabonensis
      Melancholy Woodpecker, Dendropicos lugubris
      Stierling's Woodpecker, Dendropicos stierlingi
      Bearded Woodpecker, Dendropicos namaquus
      Fire-bellied Woodpecker, Dendropicos pyrrhogaster
      Golden-crowned Woodpecker, Dendropicos xantholophus
      Elliot's Woodpecker, Dendropicos elliotii
      Grey Woodpecker, Dendropicos goertae
      African Grey-headed Woodpecker, Dendropicos spodocephalus
      Olive Woodpecker, Dendropicos griseocephalus
      Brown-backed Woodpecker, Dendropicos obsoletus
  • Genus Dendrocopos
    • Sulawesi Woodpecker, Dendrocopos temminckii
      Philippine Woodpecker, Dendrocopos maculatus
      Brown-capped Woodpecker, Dendrocopos nanus
      Sunda Woodpecker, Dendrocopos moluccensis
      Grey-capped Woodpecker, Dendrocopos canicapillus
      Pygmy Woodpecker, Dendrocopos kizuki
      Brown-fronted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos auriceps
      Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos macei
      Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos atratus
      Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Dendrocopos mahrattensis
      Arabian Woodpecker, Dendrocopos dorae
      Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Dendrocopos hyperythrus
      Darjeeling Woodpecker, Dendrocopos darjellensis
      Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos cathpharius
      Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos medius
      White-backed Woodpecker, Dendrocopos leucotos
      Great Spotted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos major
      Syrian Woodpecker, Dendrocopos syriacus
      White-winged Woodpecker, Dendrocopos leucopterus
      Sind Woodpecker, Dendrocopos assimilis
      Himalayan Woodpecker, Dendrocopos himalayensis
  • Genus Picoides - this genus is in need of revision (Moore et al., 2006). See the genus article for more.
    • Small group
      Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Picoides minor - previously Dendrocopos
      Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens
      Nuttall's Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
      Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Picoides scalaris
      Large group
      Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Picoides borealis
      Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Picoides fumigatus
      Hairy Woodpecker, Picoides villosus
      White-headed Woodpecker, Picoides albolarvatus
      Strickland's Woodpecker, Picoides stricklandi
      Arizona Woodpecker, Picoides arizonae
      Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker, Picoides tridactylus
      American Three-toed Woodpecker, Picoides dorsalis
      Black-backed Woodpecker, Picoides arcticus
  • Genus Veniliornis
    • Red-rumped Woodpecker, Veniliornis kirkii
      Golden-collared Woodpecker, Veniliornis cassini
      Choco Woodpecker, Veniliornis chocoensis
      Yellow-eared Woodpecker, Veniliornis maculifrons
      Red-stained Woodpecker, Veniliornis affinis
      Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Veniliornis nigriceps
      Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Veniliornis callonotus
      Yellow-vented Woodpecker, Veniliornis dignus
      Little Woodpecker, Veniliornis passerinus
      Dot-fronted Woodpecker, Veniliornis frontalis
      Blood-colored Woodpecker, Veniliornis sanguineus
      White-spotted Woodpecker, Veniliornis spilogaster
      Striped Woodpecker, Veniliornis lignarius
      Checkered Woodpecker, Veniliornis mixtus

Tribe Malarpicini

  • Genus Campethera
    • Fine-spotted Woodpecker, Campethera punctuligera
      Nubian Woodpecker, Campethera nubica
      Bennett's Woodpecker, Campethera bennettii
      Reichenow's Woodpecker, Campethera scriptoricauda
      Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Campethera abingoni
      Mombasa Woodpecker, Campethera mombassica
      Knysna Woodpecker, Campethera notata
      Little Green Woodpecker, Campethera maculosa
      Green-backed Woodpecker, Campethera cailliautii
      Tullberg's Woodpecker, Campethera tullbergi
      Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Campethera nivosa
      Brown-eared Woodpecker, Campethera caroli
  • Genus Geocolaptes
    • Ground Woodpecker, Geocolaptes olivaceus
Black-rumped Flameback,  Dinopium benghalense
Black-rumped Flameback, Dinopium benghalense
  • Genus Dinopium
    • Olive-backed Woodpecker, Dinopium rafflesii
      Himalayan Flameback, Dinopium shorii
      Common Flameback, Dinopium javanense
      Black-rumped Flameback, Dinopium benghalense
  • Genus Meiglyptes
    • Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Meiglyptes tristis
      Black-and-buff Woodpecker, Meiglyptes jugularis
      Buff-necked Woodpecker, Meiglyptes tukki
  • Genus Hemicircus (Placement in Malarpicini tentative)
    • Grey-and-buff Woodpecker, Hemicircus concretus
      Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Hemicircus canente
  • Genus Micropternus (formerly in Celeus)
    • Rufous Woodpecker, Micropternus brachyurus
  • Genus Picus
    • Banded Woodpecker, Picus mineaceus
      Lesser Yellownape, Picus chlorolophus
      Crimson-winged Woodpecker, Picus puniceus
      Greater Yellownape, Picus flavinucha
      Checker-throated Woodpecker, Picus mentalis
      Streak-breasted Woodpecker, Picus viridanus
      Laced Woodpecker, Picus vittatus
      Streak-throated Woodpecker, Picus xanthopygaeus
      Scaly-bellied Woodpecker, Picus squamatus
      Japanese Woodpecker, Picus awokera
      Green Woodpecker, Picus viridis
      Levaillant's Woodpecker, Picus vaillantii
      Red-collared Woodpecker, Picus rabieri
      Black-headed Woodpecker, Picus erythropygius
      Grey-headed Woodpecker, Picus canus
    • Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) searching for insects, depicted in Scientific American Supplement, No. 492, June 6, 1885
      Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) searching for insects, depicted in Scientific American Supplement, No. 492, June 6, 1885
  • Genus Mulleripicus
    • Ashy Woodpecker, Mulleripicus fulvus
      Sooty Woodpecker, Mulleripicus funebris
      Great Slaty Woodpecker, Mulleripicus pulverulentus
  • Genus Dryocopus
    • Helmeted Woodpecker, Dryocopus galeatus
      Lineated Woodpecker, Dryocopus lineatus
      Pileated Woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus
      Black-bodied Woodpecker, Dryocopus schulzi
      White-bellied Woodpecker, Dryocopus javensis
      Andaman Woodpecker, Dryocopus hodgei
      Black Woodpecker, Dryocopus martius
  • Genus Celeus
    • Cinnamon Woodpecker, Celeus loricatus
      Scaly-breasted Woodpecker, Celeus grammicus
      Waved Woodpecker, Celeus undatus
      Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Celeus castaneus
      Chestnut Woodpecker, Celeus elegans
      Pale-crested Woodpecker, Celeus lugubris
      Blond-crested Woodpecker, Celeus flavescens
      Cream-colored Woodpecker, Celeus flavus
      Rufous-headed Woodpecker, Celeus spectabilis
      Caatinga Woodpecker, Celeus obrieni (possibly extinct)
      Ringed Woodpecker, Celeus torquatus
  • Genus Piculus
    • Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Piculus simplex
      Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, Piculus callopterus
      Lita Woodpecker, Piculus litae
      White-throated Woodpecker, Piculus leucolaemus
      Yellow-throated Woodpecker, Piculus flavigula
      Golden-green Woodpecker, Piculus chrysochloros
      Yellow-browed Woodpecker, Piculus aurulentus
  • Genus Colaptes
    • Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
      Gilded Flicker, Colaptes chrysoides
      Fernandina's Flicker, Colaptes fernandinae
      Chilean Flicker, Colaptes pitius
      Andean Flicker, Colaptes rupicola
      Campo Flicker, Colaptes campestris
      Black-necked Woodpecker, Colaptes atricollis
      Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Colaptes punctigula
      Green-barred Woodpecker, Colaptes melanochloros
            Golden-breasted Woodpecker, Colaptes (melanochloros) melanolaimus
      Golden-olive Woodpecker, Colaptes rubiginosus
      Gray-crowned Woodpecker, Colaptes auricularis
      Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Colaptes rivolii
A female (left) and male Imperial Woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis) specimen at the Museum Wiesbaden. The largest woodpecker ever is probably extinct since the late 20th century
A female (left) and male Imperial Woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis) specimen at the Museum Wiesbaden. The largest woodpecker ever is probably extinct since the late 20th century

Tribe Megapicini

  • Genus Campephilus
    • Powerful Woodpecker, Campephilus pollens
      Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Campephilus haematogaster
      Red-necked Woodpecker, Campephilus rubricollis
      Robust Woodpecker, Campephilus robustus
      Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Campephilus melanoleucos
      Guayaquil Woodpecker, Campephilus gayaquilensis
      Pale-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus guatemalensis
      Cream-backed Woodpecker, Campephilus leucopogon
      Magellanic Woodpecker, Campephilus magellanicus
      Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis (possibly extinct)
      Imperial Woodpecker, Campephilus imperialis (possibly extinct)
  • Genus Chrysocolaptes
    • White-naped Woodpecker, Chrysocolaptes festivus
      Greater Flameback, Chrysocolaptes lucidus
  • Genus Reinwardtipicus
    • Orange-backed Woodpecker, Reinwardtipicus validus
  • Genus Blythipicus
    • Maroon Woodpecker, Blythipicus rubiginosus
      Bay Woodpecker, Blythipicus pyrrhotis
  • Genus Gecinulus (Placement in Megapicini tentative)
    • Pale-headed Woodpecker, Gecinulus grantia
      Bamboo Woodpecker, Gecinulus viridis
  • Genus Sapheopipo (Placement in Megapicini tentative)
    • Okinawa Woodpecker, Sapheopipo noguchii


  • Benz, Brett W.; Robbins, Mark B. & Peterson, A. Townsend (2006): Evolutionary history of woodpeckers and allies (Aves: Picidae): Placing key taxa on the phylogenetic tree. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 40: 389399. DOI:10.1016/j.ympev.2006.02.021
  • Cracraft, Joel & Morony, John J. Jr. (1969): A new Pliocene woodpecker, with comments on the fossil Picidae. American Museum Novitates 2400: 1-8. PDF fulltext
  • Johansson, U. S. & Ericson, G. P. (2003): Molecular support for a sister group relationship between Pici and Galbulae (Piciformes sensu Wetmore 1960). Journal of Avian Biology 34: 185-197. PDF fulltext
  • Koenig, W. D. & Haydock, J. (1999): Oaks, acorns, and the geographical ecology of acorn woodpeckers. J. Biogeogr. 26(1): 159-165. DOI:10.1046/j.1365-2699.1999.00256.x (HTML abstract)
  • Lemaitre, J. & Villard, M. A. (2005): Foraging patterns of pileated woodpeckers in a managed Acadian forest: a resource selection function. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 35(10): 2387-2393. HTML abstract
  • Michalek, K. G. & Winkler, H. (2001): Parental care and parentage in monogamous great spotted woodpeckers (Picoides major) and middles spotted woodpeckers (Picoides medius). Behaviour 138(10): 1259-1285. DOI:10.1163/15685390152822210 (HTML abstract)
  • Moore, William S.; Weibel, Amy C. & Agius, Andrea (2006): Mitochondrial DNA phylogeny of the woodpecker genus Veniliornis (Picidae, Picinae) and related genera implies convergent evolution of plumage patterns. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 87: 611624. PDF fulltext
  • Stark, R. D.; Dodenhoff, D. J. & Johnson, E. V. (1998): A quantitative analysis of woodpecker drumming. Condor 100(2): 350-356. PDF fulltext
  • Villard, P.; Cuisin, J. & Karasov, W. H. (2004). How do woodpeckers extract grubs with their tongues? A study of the Guadeloupe woodpecker (Melanerpes herminieri) in the French Indies. Auk 121: 509-514. DOI:10.1642/0004-8038(2004)121[0509:HDWEGW]2.0.CO;2 HTML abstract
  • Webb, Daniel Matthew & Moore, William S. (2005): A phylogenetic analysis of woodpeckers and their allies using 12S, Cyt b, and COI nucleotide sequences (class Aves; order Piciformes). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 36: 233-248. PDF fulltext
  • Wiebe, K.L. & Swift, T. L. (2001): Clutch size relative to tree cavity size in northern flickers. Journal of Avian Biology 32(2): 167. DOI:10.1034/j.1600-048X.2001.320210.x (HTML abstract)
  • Wiktander, U.; Olsson, O. & Nilsson, S.F. (2000) Parental care and social mating system in the lesser spotted woodpecker Dendrocopos minor. Journal of Avian Biology 31(4): 447. DOI:10.1034/j.1600-048X.2000.310003.x (HTML abstract)
  • Yom-Tov, Y. & Ar, A. (1993): Incubation and fledging durations of woodpeckers. Condor 95(2): 282-287. PDF fulltext

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