The White-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos) is a Eurasian woodpecker belonging to the genus Dendrocopos. It is the largest of the spotted woodpeckers in the western Palearctic, 24–26 cm long with wing-span 38–40 cm and has plumage 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.
White-backed woodpeckers are one of Europe’s rarest species of woodpeckers. They can be found in a region extending from western Europe to western Russia and as far south as Greece. The densest populations of Dendrocopos leucotos are found in the coastal forests of western Norway.
White-backed woodpeckers live in mature, open deciduous and mixed forests in upland or mountain regions, which have a high percentage of dead trees and fallen timber. Dendrocopos leucotos prefers broad-leaved forests of beech, birch, maple, ash, and elm that are in their late successional stages on steep or hilly terrain. They are occasionally found in coniferous forests, provided there are enough standing, dead trees. They often occur near rivers and streams. These woodpeckers prefer to live in mature, deciduous forests around 80 years old because they depend on mature, dead, or dying trees for nesting and feeding.
White-backed woodpeckers are the largest of the spotted, black-and-white woodpeckers and have an obviously larger head and beak than similar species. An adult male has a bright red region on the top of the head extending from the eyes back to the middle of the back of the head. Their iris is colored red-brown or red. Extending down the side of the face and back of the neck is white. A large black area lies in the middle of the white neck region and extends to the bill and behind the eyes up to the red portion of the crown. They have a white belly that is streaked with broad, black bars. A white-and-black striped pattern covers its back and wings. Females are slightly smaller than males and the entire top of their heads are black, not red. Males also have larger beaks than females, but this characteristic is hard to see without comparing a male and female side-by-side. Bare spots on the body, such as the beak and feet are greyish. Young white-backed woodpeckers are a dull shade of brown and appear much dirtier than adults. Both male and female young have red on their crowns, but are much lighter than adult males. Dendrocopos leucotos is set apart from a similar species, lesser spotted woodpeckers (Dendrocopos minor), by its large size and strongly streaked underbody and is most likely mistaken with middle spotted woodpeckers (Dendrocopos medius).
White-backed woodpeckers breed only with a single mate. These birds tend to mate with the same partner year after year. The only case where they would switch partners is if one of the pair was to perish. It is not known whether or not these birds stay together outside of the breeding season.
leucotos begin mating in February. These birds breed approximatly two weeks earlier than other woodpeckers in the same area. A nest for the eggs is usually created in a rotted tree trunk by both the male and female anywhere from 1 to 20 m above ground. The nest hole is about 7 cm wide and 30 cm deep. The mother will lay 3 to 5 eggs and both male and female will incubate for 12 to 16 days. The male will tend to the eggs during the night and the incubation will alternate between male and female during the day. After hatching, the chicks remain in the nest for 25 to 28 days. The male is the main contributor to caring for the chicks. It is not known when the newly born woodpeckers reach the age of independence, but a family bond is mainained for some time after fledging. The age of sexual maturity is not known.
Both male and female Dendrocopos leucotos spend 2 to 4 weeks preparing a nest for their clutch by excavating the soft wood of a decaying tree trunk. After the clutch has been laid, the female hands over most of the duty of incubation to the male. The male incubates the eggs during the night, while both sexes take turns incubating during the day. The male is the main provider of food for the chicks and does most of the protecting. If danger is near, the male will begin drumming loudly on the trunk to protect his territory and his young. The female will drum, but with a much lighter force than the male, to alert the male of possible danger. The male will then begin to drum much louder to deter invaders. This behavior occurs before, during, and after the eggs have hatched in the nest.
Justification (IUCN Red List)
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (extent of occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.