The Bearded woodpecker is the largest of the arboreal woodpeckers found in the southern African region, with a length of about 24 cm. In Africa it is found as far north as the Central African Republic, while within southern Africa its presence is largely limited to the northern half of the region. Its preferred habitats are woodlands of Miombo and Mopane trees.


Bearded woodpeckers have an overall yellowish appearance, the back and wings scalloped in buff. Under parts are grey, finely barred with white; cheeks and throat are white and they have a broad black malar stripe and black ear coverts. The sexes differ in their head markings, with the males having a red crown and the females a black crown, and males are slightly larger than the females. Their long bills are greyish-black; eyes are brownish-red; legs and feet are greyish-black.

They forage mainly by tapping and probing branches in their search for insects, using their long barbed tongue to extract them when they have been located.  They eat spiders, lizards, the larvae of moths and beetles and termites.

Bearded woodpeckers are not very sociable birds and they are usually found singly or in pairs. Their call is a loud “wik-wik-wik” which increases in tempo as the call progresses. They also drum loudly, probably as a means of maintaining contact with their partners, and this is often the first indication of their presence.

Bearded woodpeckers are monogamous and they excavate a nest-hole up to 500 mm deep in a large tree in which the female lays a clutch of between one and three glossy-white eggs, which hatch after an incubation period of about 13 days.

The scientific binomial for the Bearded woodpecker is Dendropicos namaquus; Dendropicos from the Greek for “a tree pecker”, and namaquus from the Latin for “from Namaqualand”. Thus a tree pecker from Namaqualand, which is quite accurate save for the fact that its range extends well beyond Namaqualand.

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