Like other woodpeckers, the cardinal woodpecker (Dendropicos fuscescens) has a straight pointed bill, a stiff tail to provide support against tree trunks, and zygodactyl or ?yoked` feet, with two toes pointing forward, and two backward. The long tongue can be darted forward to capture insects. This bird is 14-15 cm in length. It is a typical woodpecker shape, and has a dull olive back, marked with white spots. The underparts are white, heavily streaked with black, and the rump is tawny. The white throat and face are separated by a conspicuous black malar stripe, and the forecrown is brown. As with other woodpeckers, the head pattern varies with age and sex. The male has a red hind crown and nape, the female has a dark hindcrown and black nape, and juvenile males have a red hindcrown and black nape. The small crest is raised when the bird is excited. The West African subspecies is distinctive. It has streaking on the face and chin, a yellow-buff ground colour to the underparts, and greener upperparts (except the juvenile), with weaker, yellower spotting.

Habitat and Distribution

It is a widespread and common resident breeder in much of sub-Saharan Africa. It is a species found in a wide range of habitats from dense forest to thornbush.


Like other woodpeckers, this species is an insectivore.


It nests in a tree hole, unlined apart from wood chippings.

Calls and Songs

It is frequently seen, and regularly drums softly. The call is a high-pitched krrrek-krrrek-krrrek.