There are four species of bird in Portugal belonging to the woodpecker family and all but one has the best, in my opinion, Portuguese name of all birds – the pica-pau.
Iberian green woodpecker
As the name suggests, this is a different species to the European green woodpecker seen in other regions of the European mainland and the UK. This large woodpecker, a little less than 35cm tall, is the largest of all species found in Portugal and is often heard from a long distance with its very loud laughing-like call.
As its name suggests, this bird is predominantly green but lacks the black mask the European species has. The males have a red “moustache” strip that the females lack. Juveniles are easily spotted due to a mottled colouring on the chest and back.
Due to their size and flight patterns, they are easy to identify in flight. They beat a few strong wing beats before gliding and repeating in an undulated pattern. They are often seen eating ants from tree trunks in dry and open woodland. The Portuguese name is pica-pau-verde and they are resident in Portugal all-year round.
Great spotted woodpecker
The pica-pau-malhado-grande, as it is called in Portugal, is smaller in size than the Iberian green at a little under 25cm. Although vocal, they are less easily identified by a single, often repeated “kik” noise, but of course their noise of drumming against a tree trunk in unmistakable.
They cause a lot of damage to wooden utility poles, too! In springtime, you may be shocked to find a male drumming against a modern concrete pole but don’t, for one moment, think he is confused, he knows exactly what he is doing.
It is mating season and he who makes the loudest noise will attract the female. This noise echoes around the hills much louder than the deadening noise of a wooden tree. The males have a large red spot on the back of the head which is absent in females. Apart from size, the only other difference to a lesser spotted woodpecker is a red vent (the area underneath the tail). The great spotted woodpecker is resident all-year-round.
Lesser spotted woodpecker
People often get confused over the name “lesser spotted” as it is often thought it means “seen less”, but the name simply refers to the size. The pica-pau-malhado-pequeno (often also called pica-pau-galego) is just the size of a sparrow at around 15cm and is usually found in forests around water.
The male has a red crown that is absent on the female. I always describe their call as a cute version of the green woodpecker’s laugh-like voice, while their drumming is a quieter, cuter version of the great spotted woodpecker.
Although generally not seen as often as the great spotted woodpecker, in our local area there seems to be more of them present than their larger relative. They are also a resident species found all-year round.
This often-forgotten member of the woodpecker family is difficult to observe. I am yet to see one in Portugal, however have heard its loud call, not too dissimilar to a Lesser spotted woodpecker, during the spring.
The torcicolo (Portuguese name) is a little larger than the lesser spotted woodpecker and with their brown and grey plumage, they blend into forest surroundings, spending a lot of time on the ground.
The name comes from its ability to twist its neck and hiss, almost snake-like when threatened. Although a summer visitor to Portugal, as a whole they are resident in the Algarve all-year-round.
By Craig Rogers
Craig Rogers is a Wildlife and Nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve offering Photography Workshops. More information, photographs and blog can be found on his website at www.craigrogers.photography