The Olive woodpecker is the only woodpecker in the Southern African region that is not speckled, having plain olive green plumage with a bright red rump and a grey head and throat. Legs and feet are greyish-black; bill is black; eyes are dark red. The male has a bright red cap, while the female’s head is entirely grey. The males and females are approximately the same size, with a length of around 20 cm.
Within the region, their distribution is limited to the eastern and south eastern areas, where they are found mainly in evergreen forests, woodlands and well wooded gardens.
The call of the Olive woodpecker, uttered by both sexes, is a loud “wee-rit, wee-rit, wee-rit”. They are usually found in pairs, although they may become widely separated while foraging.
Olive woodpeckers feed mainly on insect larvae and pupae which they extract from under the bark of the trees in which they feed. Their strong beaks and long barbed tongues are well adapted to this task.
Olive woodpeckers are monogamous and nest in holes which they excavate in dead trees, usually well above the ground. The female lays a clutch of two or three white eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 15 days. The nest may be parasitized by the Scaly-throated honeyguide (Indicator variegatus).
The scientific binomial for the Olive woodpecker is Dendropicos griseocephalus; Dendropicos from the Greek for a “tree pecker”; and griseocephalus from the Latin for a “grey head”. Thus the name describes a grey headed bird that pecks away at trees, which is accurate if somewhat lacking in imagination.
The Bearded woodpecker is the largest of the arboreal woodpeckers found in the southern African region, with a length of about 24 cm. In Africa it is found as far north as the Central African Republic, while within southern Africa its presence is largely limited to the northern half of the region. Its preferred habitats are woodlands of Miombo and Mopane trees.
Bearded woodpeckers have an overall yellowish appearance, the back and wings scalloped in buff. Under parts are grey, finely barred with white; cheeks and throat are white and they have a broad black malar stripe and black ear coverts. The sexes differ in their head markings, with the males having a red crown and the females a black crown, and males are slightly larger than the females. Their long bills are greyish-black; eyes are brownish-red; legs and feet are greyish-black.
They forage mainly by tapping and probing branches in their search for insects, using their long barbed tongue to extract them when they have been located. They eat spiders, lizards, the larvae of moths and beetles and termites.
Bearded woodpeckers are not very sociable birds and they are usually found singly or in pairs. Their call is a loud “wik-wik-wik” which increases in tempo as the call progresses. They also drum loudly, probably as a means of maintaining contact with their partners, and this is often the first indication of their presence.
Bearded woodpeckers are monogamous and they excavate a nest-hole up to 500 mm deep in a large tree in which the female lays a clutch of between one and three glossy-white eggs, which hatch after an incubation period of about 13 days.
The scientific binomial for the Bearded woodpecker is Dendropicos namaquus; Dendropicos from the Greek for “a tree pecker”, and namaquus from the Latin for “from Namaqualand”. Thus a tree pecker from Namaqualand, which is quite accurate save for the fact that its range extends well beyond Namaqualand.