Bird O'clock

10 Fascinating Facts about the Endemic Arabian Woodpecker

The Arabian Woodpecker is a fascinating bird species that belongs to the Dendrocoptes family. Known for their distinctive drumming sound, these birds are commonly found in the arid regions of the Arabian Peninsula.

In this article, we will explore the identification, plumages, and molts of this majestic bird species.


Field Identification

The Arabian Woodpecker has a distinctive appearance that makes it easy to identify in the field. It has a medium-sized body, measuring about 20 cm in length.

The bird’s head is adorned with a bright red cap that contrasts with its black and white striped face. The back and wings of the bird are streaked with black and brown, while the underparts are white.

The Arabian Woodpecker also has a long, pointed beak that it uses to drill into trees and extract insects.

Similar Species

The Arabian Woodpecker can sometimes be confused with other woodpecker species in the region. The most similar species is the Syrian Woodpecker, which has a similar appearance but lacks the red cap on its head.

Other species sometimes mistaken for the Arabian Woodpecker include the Egyptian Woodpecker and the Grey-headed Woodpecker.


The Arabian Woodpecker has two main plumages – the breeding and non-breeding plumages. During the breeding season, the male Arabian Woodpecker sports a bright red cap on its head, which is not present in the non-breeding season.

The female Arabian Woodpecker, on the other hand, has a black cap all year round.


The Arabian Woodpecker undergoes two molts every year – the pre-basic and pre-alternate molts. The pre-basic molt occurs just before the breeding season and results in a complete replacement of the worn-out feathers.

This molt typically occurs between July and September. The pre-alternate molt, on the other hand, occurs after the breeding season, and results in the replacement of the flight feathers.

This molt typically occurs between November and January.


The Arabian Woodpecker is a remarkable bird species that is easily recognizable due to its distinct appearance. Their distinctive drumming sound can often be heard echoing through the arid regions of the Arabian Peninsula.

Understanding the identification, plumages, and molts of these birds is crucial in appreciating their beauty, and preserving their habitat.

Systematics History

The Arabian Woodpecker, also known as Dendrocoptes dorae, belongs to the family Picidae, which includes woodpeckers, sapsuckers, and flickers. The genus Dendrocoptes was once considered to be a subgenus of Dendrocopos, another woodpecker genus.

However, genetic studies have since shown that Dendrocoptes is a distinct genus.

Geographic Variation

The Arabian Woodpecker is a relatively large woodpecker species that is found across the Arabian Peninsula. While there is some variation in size and plumage of the bird across its range, these differences are not pronounced enough to warrant recognition of distinct subspecies.


At present, there are no recognized subspecies of the Arabian Woodpecker. This is partly due to the limited geographical range of the bird, which does not encompass areas where the bird would experience significant environmental differences that would lead to distinct subspecies.

The lack of recognized subspecies does not necessarily indicate that there is no genetic diversity within the species, however.

Related Species

The Arabian Woodpecker belongs to the genus Dendrocoptes, which includes several other woodpecker species. The closest relative to the Arabian Woodpecker is the Desert Woodpecker, which is found in North Africa.

The two species are morphologically similar and can be difficult to distinguish in the field. However, genetic studies have shown that the two are distinct species.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Arabian Woodpecker is an endemic species of the Arabian Peninsula. Its range extends from eastern Saudi Arabia, through the United Arab Emirates, and into Oman.

Historically, the bird was more widespread, occurring as far north as Kuwait and Iraq. However, the bird’s range has contracted due to habitat loss and fragmentation, and it is now considered to be a vulnerable species.

The primary habitat for the Arabian Woodpecker is mature, native woodlands. However, these woodlands have been heavily impacted by human activities such as urbanization, agriculture, and infrastructure development, causing significant declines in the species’ numbers.

The bird is also threatened by introduced species such as the Indian Myna bird, which competes with the woodpecker for nest sites. Despite its vulnerable status, the Arabian Woodpecker has not received as much attention from conservation efforts as other more charismatic bird species, such as falcons.

However, recent efforts have been made towards increasing public awareness about the bird’s plight and taking steps towards habitat conservation. Additionally, the development of eco-tourism in the region has the potential to provide alternative economic opportunities, thus reducing the pressure on the bird’s habitat through unsustainable development activities.


The Arabian Woodpecker is an endemic bird species of the Arabian Peninsula that is at risk due to habitat loss and fragmentation. While there is no distinct variation between subspecies, the genetic makeup of the species likely contains important diversity that requires conservation efforts.

Ongoing efforts towards conservation and education are necessary to ensure that the bird remains a part of the Arabian Peninsula’s unique avifauna for generations to come.


The Arabian Woodpecker has a restricted range, being found exclusively in the Arabian Peninsula. Within this region, the bird is often associated with the Acacia woodland, which provides the bird with the necessary habitat for survival.

They are also known to inhabit open woodland areas with sparse shrubs or trees. The presence of dead or dying trees is essential for the Arabian Woodpecker and other woodpecker species as they rely on these to drill holes and extract insects.

Therefore, a healthy forest ecosystem with a mix of dead and live trees is vital. Furthermore, woodland fringes and ecotones, where one forest type turns into another, offer a prime habitat for the Arabian Woodpecker as they are rich in insects.

Movements and Migration

The Arabian Woodpecker is a resident bird species, meaning that it does not migrate. They are generally sedentary birds, spending their entire lives within a relatively small area.

However, there are some indications that the birds may shift habitat or range due to environmental factors such as changes in vegetation, or water availability. During the breeding season, the male Arabian Woodpecker drums on trees to attract female partners and establish his territory.

While they do not migrate, woodpeckers like the Arabian Woodpecker are known for their seasonal movements in search of resources. Woodpeckers are also known to disperse from their natal sites to establish new territory and avoid inbreeding.

The dispersal distance depends on various factors such as habitat type, population density, and availability of resources. However, information regarding the dispersal patterns of the Arabian woodpecker is lacking.

Conservation of


The Arabian Woodpecker is considered to be a vulnerable species and is under threat due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Therefore, it is important to conserve their habitat by taking conservation measures such as afforestation, reforestation, and control of habitat disturbance.

A key challenge faced by conservation planners in the Arabian Peninsula is a lack of detailed information on the distribution, habitat requirements, and population density of bird species, including the Arabian Woodpecker. Therefore, research programs to study their ecology, behavior, and habitat requirements are crucial for developing conservation management actions.

There are also efforts to increase public awareness and promote ecotourism as an alternative economic opportunity for communities living in the bird’s range. This approach can help curb unsustainable developmental activities such as urbanization, infrastructure development, and agriculture, which can lead to habitat loss.


The Arabian Woodpecker is a sedentary bird species found exclusively in the Arabian Peninsula. The species is under threat due to habitat loss and fragmentation, which emphasizes the need for research on their ecology and conservation management strategies.

Although not a migratory species, the Arabian Woodpecker demonstrates seasonal movements in search of resources and can alter their range due to changes in the environment. The conservation of their habitat is critical for ensuring the survival and persistence of this unique avian species.

Diet and Foraging


The Arabian Woodpecker, like other woodpecker species, is an insectivorous bird. They forage by searching for insects in crevices, under bark, and within dead and rotting wood.

They have a long, barbed tongue that they use to snatch insects from deep crevices. The Arabian Woodpecker also uses its sharp beak to drill into wood, creating holes that it can extract insects from.

The bird tends to be selective in its choice of food, preferring larger insects like beetles, ants, and termites. While insects make up the majority of their diet, they may occasionally supplement their diet with fruits like figs and berries.


The diet of the Arabian Woodpecker has not been studied extensively, although it is known to be an insectivorous bird with a preference for larger insects. The bird’s diet may vary according to the availability of food resources and the season.

For example, in the summer, the bird may switch to a more fruit-based diet as insects become scarce.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Arabian Woodpecker has a high metabolic rate compared to other birds, which is important for sustaining its energy-intensive foraging behavior. As insects are a key source of food, the bird’s metabolism is optimized to allow for quick digestion and energy extraction from its food.

During hot weather, the bird resorts to several different strategies to regulate its body temperature. These include panting, sweating, and creating shade using its wings.

The Arabian Woodpecker is also able to acclimatize to high temperatures by adjusting its metabolic rate and metabolism.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Arabian Woodpecker is a moderately vocal species, with a variety of vocalizations used for communication, territory defense, and courtship. The bird has a high-pitched whistle-like call, which is typically delivered in short bursts.

During the breeding season, the male Arabian Woodpecker drums on trees to attract females and establish his territory. The drumming pattern includes a series of rapid beats, followed by a longer pause, and a final longer beat.

The drumming sound can be heard from a distance and is used as identification of the bird’s presence. The Arabian Woodpecker also makes a variety of other calls, including chirps, chortles, and trills.

These calls can be used for communication with other individuals, including mates, offspring, and potential rivals.


The Arabian Woodpecker is an insectivorous bird that is proficient at foraging through dead and rotting wood, crevices, and under bark, and has a range of strategies to regulate their temperature and metabolism. It is known to be moderately vocal with a variety of vocalizations that have been extensively studied as communication signals that include drumming to attract a mate or establish territory.

Due to its limited range and vulnerability due to habitat loss and fragmentation, it is crucial to ensure the conservation of their habitat and its availability for the future population of the Arabian woodpecker.



The Arabian Woodpecker moves around trees via climbing, hopping, and clinging. Its sharp, recurved claws help it to cling onto bark while it is searching for insects, and its zygodactyl feet are specially designed to provide a stable grip on tree trunks.

In flight, their wings make a distinctive undulating pattern that helps distinguish them from other species.

Self Maintenance

Woodpeckers molt their feathers every year and rely on preening to keep these feathers in good condition. The Arabian Woodpecker preens itself by collecting oil from a gland near its tail and spreading it on its feathers.

Preening helps to keep the feathers clean and aerodynamic, improving the bird’s ability to fly.

Agonistic Behavior

Intraspecific agonistic behavior, or aggressive behavior towards other individuals of the same species, is common among woodpeckers. This behavior serves to establish and defend territories, attract mates, and establish social hierarchies.

The Arabian Woodpecker will use a variety of displays, including wing flapping, bill-pointing, and fanning of tail feathers, to communicate aggression or dominance to other woodpeckers.

Sexual Behavior

During the breeding season, the Arabian Woodpecker engages in courtship behavior, including drumming on trees to establish a territory and attract a mate. The male bird will also communicate with the female through calls and posturing.

The birds form monogamous pair bonds, and both parents will engage in nest building and raising offspring.


The Arabian Woodpecker is a cavity-nesting bird, using natural tree cavities or excavating its own hole in a tree to build its nest. The bird’s nesting season typically begins from February to April.

The male Arabian Woodpecker will select a suitable tree and excavate a hole in which the female will lay eggs. After hatching, both parents take turns incubating and feeding the chicks.

The nest cavity is deep enough to keep the eggs and chicks out of sight, thus providing protection against predators. The eggs are incubated for about two weeks, and after they hatch, the chicks are fed insects by both parents.

The young birds will remain in the nest for several weeks until they are ready to fledge, after which they will leave the nest.

Demography and Populations

The Arabian Woodpecker is considered a vulnerable species, and its population is decreasing due to habitat loss and fragmentation. The bird’s restricted range has made it susceptible to environmental stressors, such as water scarcity, climate change, and habitat fragmentation.

Its vulnerability to habitat loss has led to conservation efforts focused on habitat protection and restoration. Despite the limited information available on the Arabian Woodpecker’s demography, population modelling utilizing data from other woodpecker species has suggested that declines in adult survival or changes in juvenile dispersal are likely to be most impactful on the population.

The bird’s environmental sensitivity highlights the need for ongoing research aimed at improving our understanding of the bird’s ecology and demographics to ensure that its population is secure.


The Arabian Woodpecker is a remarkable bird with a range of unique behaviors including its locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic, and sexual behaviors. The bird’s reproduction is characterized by a monogamous pair bond, cavity-nesting, and parental care.

The bird’s vulnerability to habitat loss and sensitivity to environmental stress highlights the need for conservation efforts aimed at habitat protection and restoration. Future research is necessary to collect data on the species’ demographics and ecology to implement more efficient conservation management practices.

In conclusion, the Arabian Woodpecker is a remarkable bird species that is endemic to the Arabian Peninsula. Its distinct appearance and unique behaviors, such as its locomotion, foraging, vocalization, and reproductive behavior, make it a fascinating subject of study.

However, the bird is under severe threat due to habitat loss and fragmentation, and is considered a vulnerable species. The species’ sensitivity to changes in its environment highlights the importance of habitat conservation and restoration efforts, along with ongoing research to improve our understanding of its ecology and demographics.

Preserving this unique species is essential for ensuring the biodiversity of the Arabian Peninsula and the ecological balance of the region.

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