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A photo of a Ground Woodpecker (Geocolaptes olivaceus)
Ground Woodpecker

Ground Woodpecker

Geocolaptes olivaceus

The Ground Woodpecker (Geocolaptes olivaceus) stands as a remarkable avian, likely the largest woodpecker in Africa. With a length spanning 22 to 30 cm and an average weight of around 120 grams, it presents a striking figure. The plumage is a subtle blend of greyish-brown with pale spotting on the upper parts, while the rump boasts a vivid red, particularly conspicuous during flight. The wings and tail are adorned with brown and white barring. Below, the bird is washed with a buff tone, tinged with hues of pink or red, and the underside of the tail mirrors the pale brown of the upper, albeit with lighter barring. A black, slender beak, pink or yellow irises, and grey legs complete its distinctive appearance. Both sexes are similar in plumage, though the female exhibits slightly less red and pink, and juveniles resemble females in their coloration.

Identification Tips

When observing the Ground Woodpecker, look for the red rump that becomes prominent in flight, the barred pattern on the wings and tail, and the buff underparts with a pink or red flush. The long, slender black beak is also a key feature for identification.

Habitat

This species favors the barren, steep, and boulder-strewn slopes found in the cooler hilly and mountainous regions of South Africa, Lesotho, and Eswatini.

Distribution

The Ground Woodpecker is endemic to Southern Africa, with its range extending from the southwest to the northeast, from the Cape Peninsula and Namaqualand to Mpumalanga.

Behaviour

Ground Woodpeckers are typically seen in pairs or small groups. They are vigilant birds, often seen peering over or around rocks, and can be located by their loud, distinctive two-note call. One member of the group often performs sentry duty, scanning for aerial predators, and is relieved periodically by another bird.

Song & Calls

The call of the Ground Woodpecker is a loud and raucous two-note sound, described as "chik-ree, chik-ree," often accompanied by head-swinging.

Breeding

Breeding occurs in spring and early summer, from August to November. The Ground Woodpecker nests in tunnels excavated in the vertical banks of streams or watercourses, laying usually three glossy white eggs in a chamber at the tunnel's end.

Diet and Feeding

The diet is primarily composed of ants, including their eggs, larvae, and pupae, which are extracted from dead wood or between rocks with the bird's long, sticky tongue. The Ground Woodpecker also forages on the ground, flicking away dead leaves in search of food.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List has classified the Ground Woodpecker as Near Threatened, indicating that it faces threats that could lead to its vulnerability in the near future.

Ground Woodpecker Sounds

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Recorded by: © 
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