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.