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7 Fascinating Facts About the Brown-backed Woodpecker

Bird: Brown-backed Woodpecker, Chloropicus obsoletusThe Brown-backed Woodpecker is a small, colorful bird species that belongs to the family Picidae. These birds are one of the most common woodpeckers found throughout India.

This article will provide you with comprehensive information about these fascinating creatures, including their identification, plumages and molts. Identification:

The Brown-backed Woodpecker has a distinctive appearance, with its brown-colored back and wings that have a black and white pattern.

The head is a beautiful shade of red and has a black stripe that runs from the forehead to the nape. They have a stiff tail and long, stout beak that they use to peck at wood.

Field Identification:

The Brown-backed Woodpecker is generally 22-24 cm long and weighs around 65 grams. There are no significant differences between males and females.

Their call is a distinct, staccato “kick-kick-kick” or “wick-wick-wick.”

Similar Species:

The Brown-backed Woodpecker is similar in appearance to the Himalayan Woodpecker. However, the Himalayan Woodpecker’s throat is white, while the Brown-backed Woodpecker’s is black.

The Crimson-breasted Woodpecker is also similar in appearance, but they have a crimson-colored throat and a smaller beak. Plumages:

The Brown-backed Woodpecker has two plumages – adult and juvenile.

Adult birds have a brown back, black and white wings, and a red head. Juvenile birds, on the other hand, have a brownish-gray head and a brown back.


The Brown-backed Woodpecker undergoes a complete molt once a year. The juvenile birds molt into their adult plumage when they are around 4-5 months old.

During the molt, the bird replaces its old, damaged feathers with new ones. This process takes several weeks and usually occurs in autumn or winter.

In conclusion, the Brown-backed Woodpecker is a unique and fascinating bird species that can be easily identified with its distinctive features. These birds are found in abundance throughout India, and their calls are quite distinctive.

Understanding their plumages and molts is essential for birdwatching enthusiasts who want to spot these birds in nature. With this comprehensive information, we hope that you’ll be able to identify these beautiful birds with ease.

Systematics History:

The species now known as the Brown-backed Woodpecker has undergone taxonomic changes over time. At one point in history, it was grouped under the scientific name Dendrocopos obsoletus.

However, recent phylogenetic studies have led to the species being re-classified under the name Chloropicus obsoletus. Geographic Variation:

Brown-backed Woodpeckers have a wide distribution range, spanning across India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh.

The species prefers habitats with tall trees and open canopies, such as deciduous forests, plantations, and wooded areas. They are also known to inhabit urban areas such as parks and gardens.


Geographic variation is evident in the Brown-backed Woodpecker, with several subspecies being identified to date. There are currently nine recognized subspecies of Chloropicus obsoletus, each with unique characteristics such as size, coloration, and habitat preferences.

The nine subspecies are:

– C. o.

ramsayi – Found in the Himalayas and the northern regions of Pakistan. This subspecies has a larger size than other subspecies and a distinctive red patch on its nape.

– C. o.

hargitti – Found in the northeastern region of India, this subspecies is smaller in size and has more extensive black feathers on its wings. – C.

o. cursor – Found in the southern region of India and Sri Lanka, this subspecies has a distinctive orange nape patch, larger beak, and is slightly larger in size.

– C. o.

chrysaecephalus – Found in the eastern region of India and the foothills of the Himalayas, this subspecies has a distinctive yellow or gold-colored crown. – C.

o. simlaensis – Found in the western and central Himalayas of India, this subspecies has a smaller size than other subspecies and a distinct black and white pattern on its wings.

– C. o.

tickelli – Found in the forests and mountains of southeastern India, this subspecies has a smaller size, and a more extensive white streak on its wings. – C.

o. assimilis – Found in the northeast of India and the Himalayas, this subspecies has a smaller size and is less vividly colored than other subspecies.

– C. o.

nayarii – Found in the northern region of India, this subspecies is smaller in size and has an extensive white streak on its wings. – C.

o. obscurus – Found in the mountains of Myanmar, this subspecies has the darkest coloration of all the subspecies.

Related Species:

The Brown-backed Woodpecker is part of the Picidae family, which includes all species of woodpeckers, sapsuckers, and flickers. It is clumped under the Chloropicus genus, along with several other woodpecker species.

The most closely related species to the Brown-backed Woodpecker is the Rufous Woodpecker (Chloropicus xanthopygius), which is endemic to the Himalayan region. It has a similar appearance to the Brown-backed Woodpecker, with a red head and brownish-black back and wings.

Historical Changes to Distribution:

The Brown-backed Woodpecker is known to have had changes in its distribution range over time. In the past, the species was found in the Chitwan region of Nepal but was considered extinct from this range for several decades.

However, in 2009, a small population was rediscovered in the region, indicating that the species had not been wiped out. Concerns have been raised regarding the conservation status of the species due to habitat fragmentation and degradation, which has led to declines in population numbers.

In conclusion, the Brown-backed Woodpecker is a fascinating bird species that has undergone reclassification over time. It has a wide distribution range, with several subspecies that have unique characteristics.

The species is closely related to the Rufous Woodpecker and has undergone changes in its distribution range over time. Understanding these changes in the systematics and distribution of the species can aid in its conservation and protection.


The Brown-backed Woodpecker is a resident species that is found in a variety of habitats throughout its range. These habitats include deciduous forests, plantations, orchards, woodlands, scrublands, and urban areas such as parks and gardens.

They prefer forests with tall trees and open canopies, which allows them to move freely and forage for food. The species is widely distributed throughout the Indian subcontinent, typically inhabiting both lowland and highland areas.

They are commonly found in the foothills of the Eastern, Western and Central Himalayas, as well as in the northeastern states of India. The Brown-backed Woodpecker is known for its adaptable nature.

They have been observed in a variety of habitats, including forested areas, rubber plantations, and even city parks. As long as tall trees are present, the birds can survive and thrive in the area.

Movements and Migration:

The Brown-backed Woodpecker is a resident species, which means they do not typically undertake long-distance migration like some other bird species. However, they do make short movements to find food during the non-breeding season.

During the breeding season, the Brown-backed Woodpecker defends its territory and is usually seen solitary or in pairs. While they do not migrate long distances, some populations may move higher up the mountains during the non-breeding season, also known as altitudinal migration.

During this season, the birds move to lower elevations in warmer areas to find food and better breeding opportunities. They can be seen foraging in grassy fields and gardens in such areas.

Studies have revealed that the Brown-backed Woodpecker is a non-migratory species. However, there have been some documented long-distance movements in search of new territories and food sources.

These movements are usually made by juvenile birds, exploring the vast differences in habitats and food sources. The movement and migration pattern of the Brown-backed Woodpecker is influenced by the availability of food sources and the breeding season.

They are known to be opportunistic feeders, feeding on insects, ants, larvae, fruits, and seeds. During the breeding season, they feed in areas with abundances of food sources and defend their territories.

In contrast, during the non-breeding season, they have a more relaxed territorial attitude and move to areas with better food availability. In conclusion, the Brown-backed Woodpecker is a resident species that inhabits a variety of habitats.

Although they do not undertake long-distance migration, there are short movements in search of food during non-breeding seasons. The species is known for its adaptable nature and is commonly observed in both rural and urban areas within its range.

Understanding the movement and migration pattern of the species is essential to its conservation and protection. Diet and Foraging:


The Brown-backed Woodpecker is an insectivorous bird species, feeding on a wide range of insects such as beetles, ants, termites, and caterpillars.

They forage for food by pecking on the bark and wood of trees in search of insects and larvae. They also eat fruits and seeds during the non-breeding season when insects are not plentiful.


The Brown-backed Woodpecker is known as an opportunistic feeder, meaning that they will consume any insect or prey that they come across. Their primary diet is insects, which make up over 90% of their food intake.

They also feed on fruits, berries, and nuts when these are in season and available. The Brown-backed Woodpecker uses its long and pointed beak to extract insects from bark and wood.

The bird has a distinctive feeding behavior where it pecks at the trunk of a tree methodically, going around in circles, and then moves to the next tree. Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

The Brown-backed Woodpecker is an endothermic organism, meaning that it has the ability to regulate its body temperature through metabolic processes.

Like other species of woodpeckers, the Brown-backed Woodpecker has a unique circulatory system that allows it to regulate its body temperature. The bird’s circulatory system is made up of a series of small blood vessels that work together with its respiratory and digestive system to regulate its body temperature.

The Brown-backed Woodpecker produces a unique metabolic heat that helps them to regulate their body temperature and energy levels. Sounds and Vocal Behavior:


The Brown-backed Woodpecker has a distinctive vocalization that is used for communication purposes.

The most common call heard is a sharp, staccato “kick-kick-kick” or “wick-wick-wick,” which is usually given in a series. The bird also has a distinctive drumming sound, which is used to communicate with other birds and for territorial purposes.

Males use drumming to advertise their territories during the breeding season, and the sound can be heard up to a range of 1 km. The drumming sound is made by the bird rapidly tapping its beak on the wood of a tree, creating a loud and distinctive noise.

In addition to its drumming and call, the Brown-backed Woodpecker also has a more melodious song, which is given during courtship behaviour. The song is a series of quick, high-pitched notes, mainly given by males in the courting process.

In conclusion, the Brown-backed Woodpecker is an insectivorous bird species with a distinctive feeding behavior of pecking at trees in search of insects. It is an endothermic organism that has a unique circulatory system that enables it to regulate its body temperature.

The bird has a sharp call, staccato drumming sound, and melodious song, which it uses for communication and territorial behavior. Understanding the sound and vocal behavior of the species is essential for creating effective conservation strategies and protecting the species in their natural habitats.



The Brown-backed Woodpecker is an agile and acrobatic bird species that can climb up and down tree trunks with ease. Their long and pointed beaks help them to cling onto bark and their stiff tail feathers provide support as they move up and down trees.

They can also fly in short bursts, typically using a quick, undulating flight pattern. Self Maintenance:

The Brown-backed Woodpecker, like other species of woodpeckers, has specialized adaptations that help them to maintain their feathers and beaks.

They have a preen gland that secretes oil, which they spread over their feathers using their beaks. This oil helps to waterproof their feathers and keep them in good condition.

The bird also uses its beak to clean its feathers and remove any debris or dirt. They also sharpen their beaks on rough surfaces to keep it in top condition for foraging and feeding.

Agonistic Behavior:

The Brown-backed Woodpecker is a territorial species, which means that it will defend its territory against other birds. They display dominant and subordinate behaviors when interacting with other birds, with the dominant bird displaying aggressive behaviors to displace the other.

During territorial disputes, the birds may engage in physical altercations, such as pecking or pushing each other. They also use vocalizations to communicate their intentions and establish dominance.

Sexual Behavior:

The Brown-backed Woodpecker is a monogamous species, meaning that they form pair bonds during the breeding season. Males will engage in courtship behavior to attract females, usually by drumming on trees and singing.

Once pair bonds have been established, the birds will work together to construct a nest. Both the male and female take part in nest construction, with the male being responsible for excavation and the female for lining the nest with materials such as grass, feathers, and other soft materials.


The Brown-backed Woodpecker breeds once a year, typically from April to June. The male and female birds work together to excavate a nesting cavity in a tree, usually around 5-8 meters above the ground.

The cavity is lined with soft materials such as grass, feathers, and other materials. The female will lay 2-3 eggs, which she will incubate for around 12 days.

During this time, the male will bring food to the female and help to incubate the eggs. Once the eggs hatch, both parents will take turns feeding and caring for the young.

The chicks will fledge from the nest after around 30 days and become independent from their parents after a few weeks. The Brown-backed Woodpecker may breed in abandoned nest cavities of other bird species, such as barbets or woodpeckers.

Demography and Populations:

The Brown-backed Woodpecker is considered a common and widespread species throughout its range. The population size of the species is not known and has not been assessed as of yet.

However, there are concerns about habitat degradation and fragmentation, which may affect the population size and distribution of the species. The species has been listed under the Least Concern category on the IUCN Red List due to its wide distribution range and large population size.

However, continued monitoring of the population and their habitats is necessary to maintain their conservation status and protect the species from anthropogenic interference. In conclusion, the Brown-backed Woodpecker is a fascinating bird species with unique adaptations and behaviors.

They are agile climbers, aggressiv’ve, and monogamous during the breeding season. The species has a well-coordinated system for self-maintenance and grooming.

They breed once a year and construct a nesting cavity in trees. Understanding the demography, breeding and behavioral patterns of the Brown-backed Woodpecker is essential for conservation management and protection of this common and widespread species.

The Brown-backed Woodpecker is a unique and fascinating bird species that is well-adapted to living in a variety of habitats. Their distinctive physical features, such as their long and pointed beaks and stiff tail feathers, enable them to move and climb trees with agility.

Their adaptable nature and opportunistic feeding behavior make them one of the most common woodpecker species found throughout India. Understanding their behaviors, breeding patterns, movements, and migration patterns is essential for conservation management to ensure their continued survival and protect them from anthropogenic threats such as habitat destruction and fragmentation.

By studying this species, we can learn more about the ecological systems and the delicate balance required to maintain wildlife populations.

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