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Cardinal Woodpecker
(Dendropicos fuscescens)

Cardinal Woodpecker

General description

Like other woodpeckers, this species has a straight pointed bill, a stiff tail to provide support against tree trunks, and zygodactyl or “yoked" feet, with two toes pointing forward, and two backward. The long tongue can be darted forward to capture insects.

Its back plumage is dull olive in colour, and is marked with paler dots and bands. The underparts are white, heavily streaked with black, and the rump plumage is tawny. The white throat and face are separated by a conspicuous black malar stripe, and the fore crown is olive brown.

As with other woodpeckers, the head pattern varies with age and sex. The male has a red hind crown and nape, the female has a dark hind crown and black nape.

Juvenile males have a red hind crown and black nape. The small crest is raised when the bird is excited.

The call is a high-pitched krrrek-krrrek-krrrek.

Name & classification

Scientific name:
Dendropicos fuscescens

Common names:
Cardinal Woodpecker (English)
Kardinaalspeg (Afrikaans)

Roberts VII english name:
Cardinal Woodpecker

Roberts VII scientific name:
Dendropicos fuscescens

Woodpeckers (Picidae)

Further information



Cardinal Woodepeckers forage mainly in the lower storeys of trees and among shrubs and vines, on maize stalks and reeds. They peck rapidly and probe dense vegetation, clambering along and hanging from small twigs.

Like other woodpeckers, this species is an insectivore and uses its barbed tongue to secure prey such as beetle larvae, caterpillars and other insects.

The Cardinal Woodpecker often occurs in small family groups or may join small mixed flocks.

It is frequently seen, and regularly drums softly.

Like other woodpecker species they usually excavate a new breeding cavity every season, which takes a few weeks. With this species a nest is not located in the vicinity of the previous season's nest. The entrance hole is oval in shape, and situated about 2 meters from the ground.

The glossy white eggs, 1 to 3 in number, are laid on a layer of wood chips. Incubation starts when the full clutch has been laid at one day intervals, and this usually occurs in spring or early summer.

Both parents partake in incubation, brooding and feeding. The clutch is incubated for about 12 days, and the chick leaves the nest in some 27 days, when it is immediately independent.

Natural distribution:
The Cardinal Woodpecker is native to most of southern Africa apart from the most arid desert areas.

It is found in a wide range of habitats from dense forest to thorn bush. The species has an extremely wide range and is common in much of this range.

The Lesser and Scaly-throated Honeyguide is a recorded nest parasite.

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