Grey-faced Woodpecker Picus canus


Justification of Red List Category
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). The population trend appears to be increasing therefore the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size has not been quantified, but it is not believed to 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.

Population justification
The global population size is unknown given recent taxonomic splits. The European population is estimated at 187,000-360,000 pairs, which equates to 374,000-720,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Europe forms c.40% of the global range so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 935,000-1,800,000 mature individuals although further validation of this estimate is needed. The population is therefore placed in the band 900,000-1,899,999 mature individuals.

Trend justification
In Europe, trends between 1982 and 2013 have been increasing (EBCC 2015). Data from other parts of the range is limited however the population elsewhere appears to be relatively stable (Winkler and Christie 2015).


This species occupies a wide range of habitats. It uses open country with many copses, in not over-dense forest, floodplain-forest, parks, orchards and gardens. It is associated mostly with deciduous trees, but locally in pine-oak (Pinus-Quercus) woodland, or more open coniferous montane forest with larch (Larix). In Europe it is found in lowlands and hills up to 1,700 m and non-breeders up to 2,000 m. It lays from the end of April to early June and clutches are four to ten eggs. The nest-hole is excavated in dead wood or soft living wood, or in fungus-afflicted hard wood and most often in deciduous trees of variety of species. Its diet is chiefly ants (Myrmica, Lasius), termites (Isoptera) and their brood, which often make up more than 90% of stomach contents but it also feeds on other insects and spiders as well as the nest contents of other birds, fruits, berries, seeds, nuts, acorns and nectar. The species is non-migratory although some local post-breeding movements occur (Winkler and Christie 2015).


The large-scale clearance of old deciduous woodland and conversion to coniferous plantations, resulting in habitat loss and isolation is a major threat. Changes in forestry practice are shortening the rotation period, resulting in the loss of potential nesting trees and a marked reduction in the time-span available for nesting. High levels of nutrient input from agriculture are thought to reduce habitat suitability for ants and thus driving declines in the species's main food supply. Orchards are also being lost through the expansion of villages. The extent and quality of riverine forests is also decreasing through flood-prevention schemes, canalization and damming (Tucker and Heath 1994).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
EU Birds Directive Annex I. Bern Convention Appendix II. There are no known current conservation measures for this species in Europe.

Conservation Actions Proposed
The establishment of protected areas is insufficient to conserve this species. Forestry management should be reduced in intensity and the clear cutting of older woodland avoided in order to help build and maintain a network of old deciduous woodland. In addition rotation periods in forestry should be extended and the replacement of deciduous forest with coniferous halted. The reduction of nutrient input into areas outside of forest is required and nutrient poor grasslands should be maintained (Tucker and Heath 1994). There is very little research on this species in Europe. Studies on the species's ecology and population dynamics are needed (Pasinelli 2006). Research should also focus on the influence of modern forestry and agricultural land use on the distribution and frequency of the species (Tucker and Heath 1994).


Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Ashpole, J

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Picus canus. Downloaded from on 13/11/2019. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2019) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 13/11/2019.