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Uncovering the Beauty and Fascinating Behaviors of the Bennett’s Woodpecker in Sub-Saharan Africa

The Bennett’s Woodpecker, also known as Campethera bennettii, is a small to medium-sized woodpecker found in sub-Saharan Africa. With its striking black and white plumage and distinctive red cap, it’s hard to miss this feathered friend.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the Bennett’s Woodpecker and explore its identification, plumages, and molts.


Field Identification

The Bennett’s Woodpecker is a medium-sized bird measuring 22 to 24cm in length and weighing between 80 to 100g. As stated earlier, it has a striking black and white plumage with the male having a distinctive red crown while the female has a black crown.

When in flight, the white belly and undertail are visible.

Similar Species

The Bennett’s Woodpecker is often confused with other woodpecker species. Two common birds that are confused with the Bennett’s Woodpecker are the Bearded Woodpecker and the Golden-tailed Woodpecker.

While all three species share some similarities, there are key distinctions to look out for. The Bennett’s Woodpecker has a striking red cap while the Bearded Woodpecker has a distinct black beard-stripe on its face and the Golden-tailed Woodpecker has a golden-yellow rump.


The Bennett’s Woodpecker has a unique plumage that changes over time as they moult.

Juvenile Plumage

Juvenile Bennett’s Woodpeckers have a distinct black and white plumage with brownish tips on the feathers. The red cap is absent in juveniles.

Adult Plumage

Adult plumage in both males and females are black and white, with a distinct red cap in males. The cap of the female is black.


Molting is the process where old feathers are shed, and new ones grow in their place, and woodpeckers go through several molts throughout their lifetime.

Juvenile Molt

Juvenile Bennett’s Woodpeckers undergo their first molt after about two months. This molt replaces their downy feathers with juvenile feathers.

Adult Molt

Adult Bennett’s Woodpeckers molt in the late summer to early winter, replacing their old feathers with new ones for the breeding season.


That concludes our exploration of the Bennett’s Woodpecker and its identification, plumages, and molts. With its striking markings and red cap, it’s hard to miss the Bennett’s Woodpecker in sub-Saharan Africa.

As you head out on your birdwatching adventures, keep an eye out for this feathered friend, and you’ll be sure to recognize it in no time.

Systematics History

The Bennett’s Woodpecker was first described by the German ornithologist Anton Reichenow in 1891. It belongs to the family Picidae, which includes over 200 species of woodpeckers worldwide.

The Bennett’s Woodpecker is classified under the genus Campethera, which consists of 13 species found in sub-Saharan Africa.

Geographic Variation

The Bennett’s Woodpecker has several geographical variations in its range. This variation is mainly seen in the coloration of the bird’s plumage, especially on the underbelly, crown, and nape.


There are five recognized subspecies of the Bennett’s Woodpecker:

1. C.

b. olivii: Found in northeastern Tanzania and southern Kenya.

This subspecies is the largest of all subspecies, with a more greenish-black back and a more olive-colored underbelly. 2.

C. b.

bennettii: Found in the eastern coastal region of Kenya and Tanzania. This subspecies has a black back and a white underbelly, with a red crown in males and black in females.

3. C.

b. kurzii: Found in the coastal region of southern Tanzania.

This subspecies is smaller than C. b.

bennettii, with a more olive-colored back and less white on the underbelly.


C. b.

eyrathi: Found in central Tanzania. This subspecies is similar to C.

b. bennettii, but with a greener back and a more yellowish-white underbelly.

5. C.

b. kuburensis: Found in western Angola.

This subspecies is similar to C. b.

bennettii, but with more yellow on the underbelly.

Related Species

The Bennett’s Woodpecker is most closely related to the Brown-backed Woodpecker (Campethera notata), which is found in central and eastern Africa. However, there are few observable differences between the two species, and they were previously considered conspecific.

Recent genetic studies have shown that the Bennett’s Woodpecker and the Brown-backed Woodpecker have enough genetic differences to be recognized as separate species.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Bennett’s Woodpecker has a large range across sub-Saharan Africa, ranging from Somalia and Ethiopia in the east to Angola in the west. However, human activity has impacted the distribution of this species.

In parts of its range, habitat destruction has led to declines in population numbers. This is especially true in areas where forests and woodlands have been cleared for agriculture and logging.

In Tanzania, for example, the Bennett’s Woodpecker has been declining due to the destruction of coastal forests by mangrove cutting and logging. Climate change has also impacted the distribution of the Bennett’s Woodpecker.

With the changing climate, some areas are becoming too hot and dry for the species to survive. For instance, in Kenya, the range of the Bennett’s Woodpecker has shifted towards higher altitudes as low-lying areas have become too dry for the bird to thrive.

On the other hand, the Bennett’s Woodpecker has expanded its range in some areas due to changes in land use. In South Africa, the clearing of forests for forestry and agricultural purposes has created ideal habitat for the Bennett’s Woodpecker, leading to an expansion of the bird’s range into the country.


The Bennett’s Woodpecker is a unique and beautiful bird with a fascinating systematics history, subspecies variation, and a changing distribution. Factors like habitat destruction and climate change have influenced the bird’s range over time, which highlights the importance of conservation efforts to maintain the diversity of bird species in sub-Saharan Africa.


The Bennett’s Woodpecker is a resident of sub-Saharan Africa, and its range extends from southeastern Sudan to southwestern Angola. It occupies a variety of habitats that provide an ample food supply and suitable nesting sites, including savannas, woodlands, and forests.

Savannas are the most common habitat for the Bennett’s Woodpecker, and they can be found in both dry and humid savannas in many parts of its range. In these areas, they make use of dead trees and standing snags to forage for insects and larvae.

They also use these dead trees to excavate nest holes. Woodlands are another habitat type that the Bennett’s Woodpecker is found in, typically in areas with a higher density of trees.

They make use of the same nesting sites found in savannas, but their diet is composed of a wider variety of insects. Forest habitats are also preferred by Bennett’s Woodpeckers, particularly gallery forests and edges of forests.

These habitats provide a rich source of insects for foraging and nesting.

Movements and Migration

The Bennett’s Woodpecker is considered a non-migratory species, and individuals typically remain in their respective territories year-round. However, there may be some limited movements during the dry season when food resources may be scarce in certain areas.

During the breeding season, male Bennett’s Woodpeckers may defend territories that encompass a few trees, or as many as a few hectares. The species is solitary in nature, and some individuals defend these territories year-round.

Still, others may move around as necessary to find the best resources year-round. During the non-breeding season, individuals may move more widely as food sources become limited.

In some areas, like South Africa, the Bennett’s Woodpecker moves from higher altitude areas to lower altitude areas during the non-breeding season in search of food. Overall, the movements of Bennett’s Woodpeckers seem to be influenced primarily by food resources and territorial defense, with no large-scale migration behavior observed in the species.


The Bennett’s Woodpecker is considered a species of least concern by the International Union for

Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Although habitat destruction and fragmentation have impacted some populations in certain parts of its range, the species is relatively adaptable and can persist well in many different environments.

However, the Bennett’s Woodpecker is still affected by habitat loss and human activities such as logging and land-use changes, which can fragment populations and reduce habitat availability. In areas where forests and woodlands are being lost at a high rate, populations of the Bennett’s Woodpecker may be declining in tandem.

Furthermore, climate change may also impact the population of the Bennett’s Woodpecker in the future. As areas become hotter and drier, they may not be suitable for the species, leading to range shifts or reductions in population size.

In conclusion, while the Bennett’s Woodpecker is currently classified as a species of least concern, continued monitoring of population trends and habitat conservation efforts are critical in preserving the species’ habitat and population in the future.

Diet and Foraging

The Bennett’s Woodpecker is primarily an insectivore, and its diet consists mainly of insects and their larvae. They typically forage by excavating small holes, drilling into bark, and gleaning bark crevices to find their prey.

They also consume some fruits and nectar, particularly during the non-breeding season when insect availability may be lower.


Bennett’s Woodpeckers are skilled foragers and can extract insects from hard-to-reach places, such as beneath bark, in crevices, and in dead wood. To do this, they have a unique bill structure that is designed to assist with boring into wood.

They have strong muscles in their neck and skull that allow them to strike trees with enough force to extract insects.


The primary foods consumed by Bennett’s Woodpeckers include ants, beetles, and termites. They also consume spiders, caterpillars, moths, and other insects.

Less commonly, they feed on fruits and nectar.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

Bennett’s Woodpeckers have high metabolic rates, which enables them to maintain their body temperature and high levels of activity when foraging. They have a unique thermoregulatory system that allows them to maintain a stable body temperature regardless of the outside temperature.

This is necessary because they live in environments that can be hot and humid or cold and dry, depending on the location and season.

Sounds and Vocal



Bennett’s Woodpeckers are vocal birds, and they produce a range of sounds used for communication. The most common call is a “kek-kek-kek” or “krrrrr” sound.

This call is used for communication among group members and during territorial displays. They also make a variety of tapping and drumming sounds, which are often used during courtship and territorial displays.

Males use their drumming sounds to attract potential mates and defend their territory. The drumming sounds are created by rapid pecking on trees and other objects like utility poles, metal signs, and tin roofs.

The drumming sounds produced by males can be unique to each individual, and other individuals use these sounds to recognize one another. In contrast, females use a flat or rolling rattle sound for communication when they are near their nest or feeding location.

They also use a high-pitched call for attracting their young. Overall, the vocal behavior of Bennett’s Woodpeckers plays a critical role in communication, territorial defense, and mating behavior.

Additionally, their unique bill structures and thermoregulatory systems allow them to be efficient foragers and maintain their energy levels in a range of environments.


Bennett’s Woodpeckers are active birds that exhibit a range of behaviors related to locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, and sexual behavior.


Bennett’s Woodpeckers move primarily by flight and walking. They are adept at flying through trees and woodlands, using their strong wings and maneuverability to avoid obstacles.

When on the ground, they walk using their clawed feet and tails for balance.

Self Maintenance

Bennett’s Woodpeckers engage in behaviors related to self-maintenance, including preening and bathing. Preening is a process where birds straighten and align their feathers, removing any dirt or debris.

Bathing is also important for keeping feathers clean and in good condition. Bennett’s Woodpeckers typically bathe in water, such as puddles or streams, and then preen their feathers.



Agonistic behavior refers to behaviors related to competition and aggression, such as territorial defense and nest-site competition. Bennett’s Woodpeckers are solitary birds and may defend their territories aggressively against other individuals, particularly during the breeding season.



Sexual behavior in Bennett’s Woodpeckers includes pair-bonding, mating displays, and courtship behaviors. During courtship, males may drum on trees to signal their readiness to breed, while females may vocalize and dance to signify their willingness to mate.


Bennett’s Woodpeckers typically breed during the dry season, which varies depending on the region. For example, in Kenya, breeding occurs between January and May, while in Angola, breeding occurs between November and March.

During the breeding season, males defend territories and engage in courtship behaviors to attract females. Once a pair is formed, they may mate and begin building their nest.

Nest-building is a shared endeavor, with both males and females excavating a hole in a dead tree or branch. Once the nest is complete, females will lay 2 to 4 eggs, which are then incubated by both parents for approximately 10 to 14 days.

After hatching, the young are cared for by both parents and are fed through regurgitation. The young are typically able to fledge 3 to 4 weeks after hatching, at which point they leave the nest and may begin to form their own territories.

Demography and Populations

The population size of Bennett’s Woodpeckers is not well-known, but they are believed to have stable populations in most parts of their range. Populations may be declining in regions where habitat destruction is widespread, such as the coast of Tanzania.

Like many bird species, Bennett’s Woodpeckers may be impacted by climate change. As temperatures increase and extreme weather patterns become more common, some populations may experience habitat loss, changes in feeding and nesting requirements, or range shifts.

Conservation efforts for the Bennett’s Woodpecker include preserving forests and woodlands, protecting critical habitat, and monitoring populations to better understand population trends and distribution patterns. These measures are crucial in ensuring that the species continues to thrive in its natural habitats and remains a symbol of biodiversity in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Bennett’s Woodpecker is a unique and fascinating species of woodpecker found in sub-Saharan Africa. This bird is not only attractive with its striking plumage but also has evolved unique physiological characteristics and behavior to adapt to its habitat.

The bird exhibits specialized behaviors like preening, bathing, pair-bonding, mating displays, courtship and territorial defense. These behaviors, coupled with its high metabolic rate, make the Bennett’s Woodpecker a highly efficient and effective forager that can maintain energy in a variety of environments.

However, habitat destruction, climate change, and human activities pose threats to this beautiful bird. Therefore, conservation efforts and the preservation of critical habitats are essential for the continued existence of the Bennett’s Woodpecker and other bird species in sub-Saharan Africa.

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