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Towards a better understanding of the ecology of the grey-headed woodpecker

Habitat and space use of a rare woodpecker species

According to the Swiss breeding bird atlas, the population of the grey-headed woodpecker has declined by twothirds since the 1990s. Declining trends have also been recorded in other countries in Western Europe. The grey-headed woodpecker is therefore redlisted as “endangered” in Switzerland, Germany, and France. Despite these alarming trends, the ecology of the grey-headed woodpecker remains surprisingly unknown. We are therefore examining the hitherto unknown reasons for the sharp decline of the grey-headed woodpecker in Western Europe.

Domain Research
Unit Ecological research
Topic Ecology, Species Recovery
Habitat forest
Project start 2019
Project status ongoing
Project management Martin Grüebler
Project region Jura, Solothurn, Basel Land


Project objectives

The project focuses on habitat use and breeding biology of the grey-headed woodpecker. We aim at investigating home range placement within forest landscapes, habitat preferences with in home ranges, and factors affecting home range size. Differences in forest habitat characteristics are examined by using existing habitat layers and remote sensing methods. Food composition is studied using metabarcoding of fecal samples. We also aim at recording nest and breeding success as well as annual survival of this secretive species as there are very limited empirical data on demographic rates.


Grey-headed woodpeckers are caught with mist nets using playbacks, colourringed and equipped with tiny radio transmitters. Tagged individuals are regularly located with a directional antenna. The transmitters further allow identification and regular controls of nest cavities, providing valuable data on the breeding biology. Resightings of colourringed individuals in subsequent years using playbacks allow for estimation of annual survival rates. Resource selection functions and digital habitat layers partly based on LiDAR data are used to investigate habitat preferences.


The population trend of the grey-headed woodpecker in Switzerland is alarmingly negative. This project will generate valuable knowledge about the habitat use of this rare woodpecker, which will enable target conservation measures to be developed for the species. The implementation of evidencebased conservation measures could give the rare forest dweller a chance to recover from its population collapse. By building cavities, the grey-headed woodpecker creates new breeding sites for secondary cavitynesting birds and is thus an important member of our forest ecosystems.

Financial support

  • Stiftung Yvonne Jacob
  • Zigerli-Hegi-Stiftung



Species concerned

Other resources
Dem geheimnisvollen Grauspecht auf der Spur (in German)
Ecological research link

Ecological research

We investigate the diverse interactions of birds with their environment, from individual settlement behaviour to species communities.

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