LIFE13 NAT/SI/000314

White-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos)

The Biology of the Species

The male white-backed woodpecker has a red crown. Both, male and female are predominantly black, with white coloured breast and red coloured abdomen and undertail. They have a black-and-white pattern across the back. On their feet they have four “climbing” toes. It inhabits the forests with larger amounts of dead or partially dead deciduous trees. It feeds on longhorn beetles, bark beetles and elm bark beetles living on dead deciduous trees. When searching for insects in the dead trunks it excavates cone-shaped holes. Their territory covering approximately 100 hectares has a lot of dead trees; even 30 m3/ha or more. The pair defends their territory from other birds of the same species with territorial drumming. The male territorial drumming can be frequently heard while female drumming is less frequent and weaker. Usually, the male excavates the nesting hole high up on a dead bole of a deciduous tree. The female lays 3 to 5 eggs at the end of April or in the beginning of May. The fledglings start to fly at the end of May or in the beginning of June and make loud calls during those final days. In autumn and winter, the white-backed woodpecker returns to a solitary life.


The disappearing of the ageing forests and old-growth type forests with decaying deciduous trees is one of the main threats for this species. There was an abundance of such forests in the natural landscape and consequently this woodpecker species was among the dominant species. Outside of forest reserves where the forests are left to develop naturally, such forest can be found only in closed, steep and inaccessible areas. Therefore this species requires a planned protection of its habitat.


The white-backed woodpecker is distributed almost throughout Europe but only in areas with dead deciduous trees. In the Scandinavia it can be found only in the lower southern part. It is less frequent in the west part of Europe.

Conservation status of the species in the SPA Kočevsko: unfavourable

It is estimated that 10 to 15 pairs are nesting in the Kočevje region (2011 IBA revision) The current conditions of the dead tree mass in the Kočevje region are not favourable for this species.

Project activities

In the project we will allocate parts of the forest for the species and leave them to develop naturally. In the young forest (the so-called rejuvenated forest) full of seedlings, thicket and saplings we will girdle high trees instead of felling them since cutting and removing them could cause too much damage to the young growth. When thinning pole trees we will replace felling with girdling thereby increasing the amount of dead deciduous trees and feeding opportunities for this woodpecker species.

Protection status

A protected species in Slovenia. On the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2011 IBA revision) the white-backed woodpecker is classified as endangered (EN).