The Cardinal Woodpecker, Dendropicos fuscescens, 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. It nests in a tree hole, unlined apart from wood chippings.
Male on an ageing tree
Like other woodpeckers, this species 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.
Like other woodpeckers, this species is an insectivore. It is frequently seen, and regularly drums softly. The call is a high-pitched krrrek-krrrek-krrrek.