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10 Fascinating Facts about the Buff-necked Woodpecker

The Buff-necked Woodpecker, also known by its scientific name Meiglyptes tukki, is a medium-sized bird that belongs to the family Picidae. This species of woodpecker is widely distributed throughout Southeast Asia, from Myanmar to Borneo and Java.


Field Identification

The Buff-necked Woodpecker is an easily identifiable bird due to its distinct appearance. It has a bright yellow head and a buff-colored neck, which gives the bird its common name.

The back and wings are black with white spotting, and the underparts are gray with dark streaks. The tail is black with white outer feathers, which are visible in flight.

Similar Species

The Buff-necked Woodpecker can be easily distinguished from other woodpecker species in its range. However, the Olive-backed Woodpecker, which is similar in size and shape, has a brownish back and lacks the yellow head and buff-colored neck of the Buff-necked Woodpecker.


The Buff-necked Woodpecker has a unique plumage that changes as the bird ages. Juvenile birds have a duller appearance than adults and lack the distinct yellow head and buff-colored neck.

Instead, they have a grayish-brown head and neck with dark streaks. Adult males have a red patch on their nape, which is absent in females.

However, this feature is not always visible in the field.


The Buff-necked Woodpecker undergoes a complete molt once a year, which usually occurs in May and June. During the molt, the bird sheds all of its feathers and grows new ones.


The Buff-necked Woodpecker is a fascinating bird with a unique appearance that makes it easily identifiable in the field. Its plumage changes as the bird ages, and it undergoes a complete molt once a year.

By understanding how to identify the Buff-necked Woodpecker and its plumage changes, birders can enjoy observing this species in the wild.

Systematics History

The Buff-necked Woodpecker belongs to the family Picidae, which comprises over 240 species of woodpeckers, piculets, and wrynecks. Originally, the Buff-necked Woodpecker was classified under the genus Picus.

However, in 2002, a molecular phylogenetic study revealed that the taxonomic classification of the genus Picus was polyphyletic, and as such, further research led to the creation of the new genus Meiglyptes, in which the Buff-necked Woodpecker was placed.

Geographic Variation

The Buff-necked Woodpecker has a wide distribution throughout Southeast Asia, and as such, exhibits geographic variation in its physical characteristics.


There are currently six recognized subspecies of the Buff-necked Woodpecker. They are:


Meiglyptes tukki tukki: found in Thailand and Myanmar

2. Meiglyptes tukki pallidus: found in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam


Meiglyptes tukki melli: found in Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, and Sumatra

4. Meiglyptes tukki javanus: found in Java


Meiglyptes tukki borneonensis: found in Borneo

6. Meiglyptes tukki atrotectus: found in the Natuna Islands

Related Species

The Buff-necked Woodpecker belongs to a group of woodpecker species known as the “piculets.” The piculets are a small group of woodpeckers comprising 27 species that are found primarily in tropical regions.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The geographically widespread distribution of the Buff-necked Woodpecker and its habitat preference has made it a difficult bird to study. However, historical changes in its distribution have been recorded over the years.

In the last few decades, the Buff-necked Woodpecker’s range has undergone changes due to habitat fragmentation and loss. Human activities such as deforestation and conversion of natural habitats to agricultural lands and urbanization have led to the decline of the species in some regions.

In Malaysia, for instance, there has been a significant decrease in the Buff-necked Woodpecker’s population due to habitat loss and fragmentation. The bird is no longer found in fragmented forest patches or areas with degraded forest habitats.

In contrast, populations of the species in Thailand and Indonesia have remained relatively stable. Despite the decline in its population in some regions, the Buff-necked Woodpecker is currently classified as a species of “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

However, it is essential to continue monitoring the bird and taking steps to mitigate habitat loss and fragmentation to ensure the continued survival of the species.


The Buff-necked Woodpecker’s geographic variation and relatedness to other species in the piculet group provide insight into its evolutionary history. Despite the significant changes in its distribution over the years, the species remains relatively stable in some regions.

Nevertheless, continued monitoring and conservation efforts are necessary to ensure the species’ survival in the face of habitat loss and fragmentation.


The Buff-necked Woodpecker is a species that inhabits a variety of habitats across its range. The bird is usually found in tropical and subtropical forests, including lowland and montane rainforests, secondary growth forests, and plantations.

Within these habitats, the Buff-necked Woodpecker favors areas that have large trees, especially those with decaying wood, which it uses as a food source by drilling holes to extract insects. The bird can also often be observed foraging in the understory or on trees’ trunks and branches.

Movements and Migration

The Buff-necked Woodpecker is considered a non-migratory species, meaning it does not undertake seasonal long-distance movements. However, some individuals may disperse from their natal territories to establish new breeding sites.

Juveniles, in particular, tend to disperse farther from their natal territories, with some birds traveling up to 20 kilometers. Males are known to be more sedentary, and they tend to stay in one area throughout the year.

While the Buff-necked Woodpecker does not undertake extensive seasonal movements, it may undertake altitudinal movements. During the dry season, the species may move to higher elevations, where humidity levels are higher, and food resources are more abundant.

One study found that Buff-necked Woodpeckers in Borneo showed seasonal elevational movements in response to variation in fruiting trees’ distribution. In the wet season, when fruiting trees were abundant, the birds were found at lower elevations.

However, in the dry season, when fruiting trees were limited, the birds moved to higher elevations. These movements are likely in response to changes in food availability and the birds’ attempt to optimize their foraging and breeding success.

In addition, changes in climate or habitat destruction could affect the Buff-necked Woodpecker’s movements, potentially leading to changes in the species’ distribution and population size.


The Buff-necked Woodpecker is a non-migratory species that inhabits a variety of habitats across its range. While the bird may undertake seasonal altitudinal movements in response to changes in food availability, it typically remains in one area throughout the year.

Understanding the Buff-necked Woodpecker’s movements and habitat preferences is essential for effective conservation management. Monitoring changes in the bird’s distribution and population size over time can help identify areas where conservation efforts are necessary to ensure the continued survival of the species in the face of habitat loss and climate change.

Diet and Foraging


The Buff-necked Woodpecker primarily feeds on insects, including beetles, ants, and caterpillars. It forages by drilling holes in decaying wood with its bill and then using its long tongue to extract the insects.

The bird may also forage on the ground, searching for fallen fruits and seeds.


The Buff-necked Woodpecker’s diet varies depending on the habitat it occupies and the season. In some areas, the bird feeds more on fruit during certain times of the year when insects may be scarce.

In other areas, the bird may rely more on ants and termites, which are abundant in some habitats. In addition to insects, the Buff-necked Woodpecker has also been observed feeding on small vertebrates such as lizards, tree frogs, and birds’ eggs.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

As an active forager, the Buff-necked Woodpecker has a high metabolic rate. This is necessary to sustain the bird’s energy while it drills holes into wood to extract insects.

The bird’s metabolic rate is so high that its body temperature can slightly exceed the environmental temperature. However, the bird has several adaptations that allow it to regulate its body temperature, including a large surface area to volume ratio and the ability to evaporatively cool itself.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Buff-necked Woodpecker is not known for an extensive variety of vocalizations in comparison to other species of woodpeckers. However, it has a characteristic “whit” or “tuk” call, which it uses to communicate with other members of its species.

The call is typically repeated several times in succession, often at close intervals. During the breeding season, males use a drumming sound to attract females and defend their territories.

The drumming sound is produced by the bird rapidly tapping its bill against a tree or other hard surface, creating a series of rapid, rhythmic beats that are characteristic of the woodpecker family. The frequency and duration of the drumming sound can vary depending on the bird’s behavior and social context.

In addition to its vocalizations, the Buff-necked Woodpecker also uses body language to communicate. For example, the bird may lower its head or lean forward to signal aggression or territorial defense, while a relaxed posture and wing-spread may indicate a submissive or non-threatening posture.


The Buff-necked Woodpecker has a unique dietary niche and foraging behavior, primarily feeding on insects and drilling holes in decaying wood to extract them. During breeding season, males use a drumming sound to attract females and defend their territories.

Understanding the bird’s vocalizations and body language is essential for accurate identification in the field and developing effective conservation strategies for the species.



The Buff-necked Woodpecker is a skilled climber and spends most of its time moving about on trees. The bird uses its stiff tail feathers and sharp claws to cling to tree trunks and branches.

Its strong legs and feet also allow it to move vertically or hang upside down to reach food.

Self Maintenance

The Buff-necked Woodpecker spends a considerable amount of time maintaining its feathers. The bird will use its bill to preen its feathers regularly to keep them clean and properly aligned.

It will also take dust baths or bathe in streams or puddles to remove dirt and excess oil from its feathers.

Agonistic Behavior

The Buff-necked Woodpecker exhibits agonistic behavior, especially during the breeding season. Agonistic behavior includes a range of displays, vocalizations, and postures that are used to establish dominance and defend territory.

During territorial disputes, the bird will assume an aggressive posture, which includes lowering its head, spreading its wings, and puffing up its feathers. The bird may also emit threatening vocalizations to intimidate its opponent.

Sexual Behavior

The Buff-necked Woodpecker’s sexual behavior varies depending on the season and whether the bird is breeding or not. During the breeding season, males will compete for females using displays such as drumming and vocalizations.

The males may also engage in aggressive behaviors to protect their territory or attract a mate. Once a pair bond is established, the male and female will work together to excavate a nest cavity in a tree.

The nest cavity will be used to lay eggs and rear young. The Buff-necked Woodpecker is known to be a monogamous species, meaning that it stays with the same mate for the breeding season.


The Buff-necked Woodpecker breeds during the dry season, which coincides with the availability of insect prey. The breeding season varies depending on the geographic location, with breeding occurring earlier in the year in the southern parts of the bird’s range.

The male and female Buff-necked Woodpeckers work together to excavate a nest cavity in a tree. The nest cavity will take several weeks to complete and up to a week to smooth out the inside before the female lays eggs.

The female Buff-necked Woodpecker will lay two to three eggs per clutch, which she will incubate for about two weeks. Once the eggs hatch, both parents will care for the chicks, bringing them food and protecting them from predators.

The chicks fledge from the nest after about four weeks, but the parents will continue to care for them for another week or two until they can fend for themselves.

Demography and Populations

The Buff-necked Woodpecker is widespread throughout its range, and its populations are considered stable. However, the bird is facing threats from habitat loss and degradation due to human activities such as deforestation, urbanization, and conversion of natural habitats into agricultural lands.

Conservation efforts, including habitat protection and restoration, are necessary to ensure the continued survival of the Buff-necked Woodpecker and other bird species that depend on the same habitats. Monitoring of populations and understanding the bird’s behavior and breeding patterns are also essential for effective conservation management.

The Buff-necked Woodpecker is a fascinating species of woodpecker that inhabits a variety of tropical and subtropical forests throughout Southeast Asia. Its unique adaptations, including its foraging techniques, vocal behavior, and territorial behaviors, provide insight into its evolutionary history.

However, the Buff-necked Woodpecker is facing threats from habitat loss and degradation due to human activities. For this reason, it is essential to continue monitoring its distribution and population size and implementing effective conservation management plans to ensure the bird’s continued survival.

By understanding the Buff-necked Woodpecker’s behavior, foraging, and breeding patterns, we can learn more about not only this species but other bird species that share the same habitat requirements, leading to more effective and long-lasting conservation efforts.

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