Arabian Woodpecker Dendropicos dorae


Justification of Red List Category
Recent population estimates have placed the population size as >10,000 mature individuals. However, the population is still considered to be relatively small and in decline owing to cutting and lopping of trees for charcoal, firewood and fodder, in parts of its range. Therefore, it is now listed as Near Threatened.

Population justification
Data from the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Arabia (Jennings 2010) provides a population estimate of c.7,500 pairs, which equates to 15,000 mature individuals. Therefore, the population size is placed here in the range 10,000-19,999 mature individuals.

Trend justification
There are no new data on population trends, and it has been suggested that its range and population have remained stable since the 1930s (Jennings 2010). Information post-2010 also suggests the species has remained stable (J. Babbington and P. Roberts in litt. 2016). However the species is precautionarily suspected to be in slow decline owing to habitat loss and degradation.

Distribution and population

This species occurs locally in the Red Sea foothills and western ramparts of southwest Arabia (Winkler et al. 1995), from 13°N in Yemen to 26°N in Saudi Arabia (Jennings 2010). It is generally uncommon to rare where it occurs, with some population data (Davidson 1996, Newton and Newton 1996) suggesting that local densities are probably equivalent to 0.1-1.0 mature individuals per km2. A recent estimate of c.7,500 pairs (Jennings 2010) implies that there are c. 15,000 mature individuals (M. Jennings in litt. 2012). The population is currently inferred to be in continuing decline, but it has been suggested that its range and population have remained stable since the species was described early in the 20th century (Jennings 2010). Further information suggests that the population has remained stable since 2010 (J. Babbington and P. Roberts in litt. 2016).


It inhabits woodland, which now occurs only in residual fragments in Yemen, following millennia of settlement, cultivation and livestock-grazing. It occurs in a wide variety of woodland-types, including: groves of fig Ficus, date-palm Phoenix or pandan Pandanus at lower altitudes; subtropical, evergreen riparian forest; traditional shade-coffee plantations and well-developed succulent shrubland at middle-altitudes; woods, groves and parklands of Acacia, Juniperus, Olea and Dracaena at higher altitudes (often on slopes terraced for agriculture); and old-established orchards in the highlands (King 1978, Everett 1987, Newton and Newton 1996, Winkler et al. 1996). It occurs from sea-level to 2,800 m asl, and breeding records and behaviour (February-May) have been noted from 400 m asl up to 2,400 m asl (Everett 1987, Porter et al. 1996, Winkler et al. 1996, Jennings 2010), although it probably breeds down to sea-level (M. Jennings in litt. 2012). The nest-site is a small hole excavated in the trunk or major branch of a large tree (generally in dead wood or in a soft-wooded species).


Lopping, cutting and clearance of trees, for charcoal and firewood (especially in Yemen [Beck 1990, Scholte et al. 1991]) and for building/agricultural land (mainly in Saudi Arabia [Newton and Newton 1996]), are problems in parts of the species's range. Such activities are likely to preferentially target nest-trees (Winkler et al. 1996), and are known to have reduced the number of large trees at some sites since the late 1980s (Beck 1990). In Yemen at least, the high price of cooking gas, and consequent heavy reliance on fuelwood, could be a cause for concern (D. Stanton in litt. 2012). Abandonment of agricultural terraces at mid-altitudes is leading to massive loss of top-soil and degradation of terrace woodlands (Scholte et al. 1991). A lack of tree regeneration, owing to high levels of grazing and browsing by livestock, has been observed at several sites and may be a problem. The species may also be evicted from nest holes by Violet-backed Starlings Cinnyricinclus leucogaster (J. Babbington and P. Roberts in litt. 2016). Dam construction may affect the species's habitat (J. Babbington and P. Roberts in litt. 2016). The conflict in Yemen is also leading to food shortage, and so birds may be being killed for food, although this species may not be being highly targeted (R. Porter in litt. 2017).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
There are many traditional rangeland reserves (mahjur) in south-west Arabia, where the vegetation (including trees) is protected by private or communal ownership rights from excessive exploitation, in order to provide fodder in times of drought (Scholte et al. 1991). However, the management of these areas has been widely neglected or abandoned since the advent of more convenient supplies of supplemental feed (Scholte et al. 1991). The species occurs in at least two protected areas in Saudi Arabia: Raydah Reserve and Asir National Park (Newton and Newton 1996).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Encourage non-intensive agroforestry practices. Conduct a comprehensive population census and more extensive survey of potentially suitable sites. Promote the species as a flagship for strengthening the degree of protection of several sites in Saudi Arabia. Promote the designation of protected areas for this species.


18 cm. Rather small, olive-brown woodpecker with white bars across wings and red patch on rear of head of male. Both sexes show pale red patch down centre of belly. Voice Accelerating, then descending, kek-kek-kek-kek-kek-kek is the most frequently heard call. Variable pweek pit-pit-pit-pit-pit-pit-pit given between members of pair. Hints Only woodpecker breeding in Arabia. Typical woodpecker undulating flight. Drums feebly and only occasionally.


Text account compilers
Mahood, S., Martins, R., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Ekstrom, J., Westrip, J., Ashpole, J

Stanton, D., Roberts, P., Porter, R., Babbington, J., Jennings, M.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Dendropicos dorae. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 04/07/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 04/07/2022.