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Xiphidiopicus percussus

Cuban Green Woodpecker

  • Order: Piciformes
  • Family: Picidae
  • Polytypic 2 Subspecies

Authors: Farnsworth, Andrew



Cuban Green Woodpecker is a medium sized woodpecker. Despite the name, only the upperparts are green. It also has a black crown and throat; the sides of the head are white, crossed by a black stripe behind the eye; the nape and the upper breast are red; and the underparts are yellow, streaked with black. There is a short crest on the rear crown.

Similar Species

None. No other species of woodpecker that occurs on Cuba has unmarked green upperparts. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) has a facial pattern that is vaguely similar to that of Cuban Green Woodpecker, but the sapsucker has black and white upperparts (including a broad white stripe along the closed wing), and has a broad black breast band.


Calls include a short, low and harsh "jhhhorr, jhhhorr, jhhhorr" as well as a higher pitched "yeh-yeh-yeh." Also, single or double notes occasionally. Occasionally gives a call similar to that of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), a slurred, two note "aa-aa" or "ta-ha" (Barbour 1923). Some times highly vocal, especially in the presence of young and the presence of West Indian Woodpecker (Melanerpes superciliaris) close to the nest.

Recordings of vocalizations of Cuban Green Woodpecker can be heard at Macaulay Library and at xeno-canto.

Nonvocal Sounds

Cuban Green Woodpecker produces the usual woodpecker tapping sounds (bill on wood) when foraging and hammering.

Detailed Description (appearance)

A distinctive, relatively small woodpecker of the general size and shape of a sapsucker, occasionally appearing crested, with bright olive-green upperparts and yellow underparts (ML 39307). Nape and upper breast are bright red with some black bases to feathers usually visible, with black chin and throat; red crown in males, black crown striped white in females. White face and supercilium, punctuated by black border to cheek. Yellow breast is streaked with black or greenish-black, yellow on flanks barred with black. Crissum is yellow with black barring.  Females is significantly smaller than the male, generally shorter-billed.  Juveniles are generally duller in plumage, showing more barring and streaking below.

Bare Parts

Iris: brown

Bill: bluish black

Tarsi and toes: greenish to grayish olive

Bare parts color data from Winkler et al. (1995)


Total length: 21-25 cm (Winkler et al. 1995, Raffaele et al. 1998)

Mass: 48-97 g.  Males heavier than females. (Winkler et al. 1995)


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Geographic Variation

Two subspecies currently recognized:

percussus Temminck 1826; type locality Cuba

Cuba, except for Isle of Pines and Cantiles Keys. See Detailed Description.

insulaepinorum Bangs 1910; type locality Santa Fé, Isle of Pines

Occurs on Isle of Pines and Cantiles Keys. Similar to nominate percussus, but "smaller; coloration paler, especially below; under parts more narrowly and less distinctly streaked, the streaks less blackish, more grayish; red of foreneck more restricted; auricular stripe lighter gray and rather narrower" (Bangs 1910). There is extensive overlap in size between the two subspecies, however (Short 1982).


The relationships of Xiphidiopicus to other woodpeckers was unclear for many years. This genus often was placed near Sphyrapicus (sapsuckers) in linear classifications, implying a close relationship to that genus (e.g. Winkler et al. 1995, AOU 1998). Short (1982) mentioned that "its intricate color patterns resemble to some extent those of species of Melanerpes (formicivorus, cactorum) and Sphyrapicus", although it is not clear if he meant to imply a phylogenetic relationship between Xiphidiopicus, Sphyrapicus, and some species of Melanerpes. A recent phylogenetic analysis of DNA sequence data (from the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene) indicates that Xiphidiopicus is sister to Melanerpes, and that Sphyrapicus is basal to the Xiphidiopicus/Melanerpes clade (Overton and Rhoads 2006).

Recommended Citation

Farnsworth, Andrew. 2012. Cuban Green Woodpecker (Xiphidiopicus percussus), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: